Product News, Truck Product News, Truck Technology

Isuzu’s intrepid plan of attack

Signalling the start of a bold offensive stretching over the next two years and more, Isuzu Australia has outlined new product details which will not only see a generational upswing of its entire model range but also, the prospect of a genuinely competitive prime mover. It all starts later this year with a few F-series models but have no doubt, the momentum will build, and build big.

 

Most companies like to keep details of new product initiatives well under lock and key, desperately defending secrecy until the very last minute before the curtain goes up on their latest and presumably greatest creation. Isuzu, or rather Isuzu Australia, is not one of them.

In fact, the absolute leader of the overall Australian truck market for the past 35 years appears to have no interest whatsoever in concocting an element of surprise or more to the point, showing any trepidation that it may be giving competitors a free kick with advance details of upcoming new product.

Instead, local leaders of the Japanese leviathan have been historically entirely up front, openly revealing product plans well in advance and in the process, seemingly challenging competitors with a ‘catch us if you can’ credo. Thus, Isuzu Australia’s recent quick-fire trip to Japan to disclose first details of an upcoming generational change to its entire product line was, quite simply, nothing less than normal.

Even so, some might see such attitude as a somewhat arrogant, haughty approach, an almost insolent pride stemming from so much success over so many years and true, there may be a tinge of reality in such assertions. After all, in any industry anywhere, 35 years at the top of the tree is an achievement of stellar standing and self-ascribed sentiments of superiority are, well, not entirely unexpected. Equally though, neither are they unjustified given the extent of the success.

Japanese version of the new four cylinder F-series. A totally redesigned grille easily differentiates the old from the new

Yet even if there is a hint, ever so slight, of such hubris, nothing defines Isuzu’s attitudes and aptitudes more than its underlying confidence. A confidence borne of a product range which has for decades satisfied a vast cross-section of Australia’s commercial vehicle applications, building an enviable reputation for reliability, sold and serviced through arguably the most expansive and experienced dealer network in the country, and all these elements glued together by a marketing exercise and budget unmatched in both consistency and content.

As its tenure at the top so plainly portrays, Isuzu hoisted the bar many years ago and hoisted it high. Very high.

Nonetheless, cynics and critics may fairly contend the brand’s long-term triumphs stem almost solely from absolute domination of light and medium-duty categories, the little truck league, where Japanese makers fight for favouritism among themselves rather than banging heads with the heavies of Europe and the US. That’s true up to a point, the point being that even without a dedicated prime mover model, Isuzu remains firmly fixed in third position on the heavy-duty ladder behind stalwarts Kenworth and Volvo, yet comfortably ahead of all other big name heavy hitters.

Isuzu’s new ELF, set to continue its role as a staple of Japan’s light truck market. In Australia we know it as the all-conquering light-duty N-series

But what if Isuzu was to gain a genuine competitor in the prime mover class, a model with an advanced 13 litre European powertrain sporting 530hp or thereabouts, backed by the same dealer network and aggressive marketing that support its smaller siblings?

Worryingly for some, that prospect is now at least showing some signs of life due to Volvo’s cautious concession to allow its popular 13 litre engine and transmission package to be offered in both Isuzu’s Giga flagship and its relatively recent corporate counterpart, UD Quon. Right now though, those models are ‘Japan only’ and on the face of it, the odds appear stacked against Isuzu’s reborn Giga arriving here anytime soon with a 500-plus powertrain as Volvo strives to protect its local 13 litre line-up from such a fiercely aggressive and obviously aspirational player.

Still, a truly competitive prime mover has long been something of a Holy Grail pursuit for Isuzu’s local leadership and Isuzu Australia chief operating officer and director Andrew Harbison is no exception, anxious for the day when he will have the product to mount a determined challenge for top slot on the heavy-duty ladder. And make no mistake, Harbison’s outwardly mild mannerisms mask a fiercely competitive character, brazenly keen to take the trucking trifecta by adding heavy-duty leadership to Isuzu’s entrenched dominance of light and medium-duty markets.

On show in Tokyo, a battery-electric EV version of the new ELF range was on the cards from the start of the next generation program. Photo: Steve Brooks

As he is quick to acknowledge though, the Japanese play a patient game in corporate wrangling and it will take time and probably much high-level haggling before a suitably specified Giga (or Quon) arrives on the Australian market. It is, however, an overtly optimistic Andrew Harbison who contends it will happen. Eventually!

Indeed, the modern Giga – sharing nothing more than a name in common with its massively mediocre and gratefully defunct predecessor – may ultimately prove to be the crowning pinnacle of a total refurbishment of Isuzu Australia’s entire product portfolio over the next few years.

Again though, this generational makeover of Isuzu’s entire range won’t happen all at once but rest assured, it is coming and in competitive terms, nothing will be left to chance.

Steady start

While exact timelines are still to be determined, the thin edge of the wedge marking the most complete change to Isuzu’s model range since 2008 will come in the second half of this year with 5.2 litre four cylinder F-series medium-duty trucks. Like all other models in the fully revised line-up, they’ll be easily recognised by a stylish, demonstrably different grille design.

After the four cylinder F-series, as Andrew Harbison explained in a press statement, “we’ll see the arrival of our ever-popular light-duty N-series and the workhorse six cylinder F-series, followed by heavy-duty FX-series releases and concluding with the FY twin-steer range.”

Snapshot of the new N-series interior. Inside and out, all models in the fully revamped range have been significantly modernised

From start to finish, and excluding the possibility of a new Giga, Isuzu’s complete range change will span the best part of two years. It is, by any measure, a protracted timetable even for such a comprehensive model range but according to Harbison, “The launch and release of an entirely new product line-up represents a significant undertaking, and so staging the various range releases in Australia made sense.

“This, combined with the production timelines from the factory in Japan mean that we’ll see our full model line-up progressively rolled out leading into the ADR 80/04 heavy vehicle exhaust emissions in late 2025.”

Actually, the eight-wheeler range probably won’t be seen until early 2026 but there’s no question that new Australian Design Rules (ADR) are a critical factor in launch schedules for the new models. On February 1, 2025, for instance, new ADRs mandating the inclusion of electronic stability control and advanced emergency braking will come into force for all new model introductions while in November the same year, ADR 80/04 will mandate significantly more stringent emissions standards for newly introduced models.

Meantime, while there were many design goals for all the new models, Isuzu cites carbon neutrality, driver comfort, safety and connectivity as the major points in an overall package developed through what it calls the Isuzu Modular Architecture and Component Standard, or I-MACS.

As a company statement explains, I-MACS ‘encapsulates the idea of combining various components, parts and devices on an as-needs basis, thereby catering to the diverse requirements of Isuzu customers in today’s market and in the future’.

Isuzu Australia’s head of product, Matt Sakhaie explains the virtues of the Isuzu Modular Architecture and Component Standard, or I-MACS. A boon for delivering “an even better product,” he asserts

For Isuzu Australia’s head of product, Matt Sakhaie, I-MACS has been a boon for delivering a new line-up with the diversity to cater for a broad range of roles while enhancing the economic benefits of commonality between models.

“The execution of the design concepts and principles into the product is impressive,” he said in a statement. “Using the N-series EV (electric vehicle) and ICE (internal combustion engine) products as an example, the commonality of these platforms which offers a vast number of possible configurations and variations to meet all manner of market and customer needs is quite remarkable.

“It is,” he continued, “this agile approach and broad thinking that is encouraging to us (and) we know we’ll have an even better product to offer our local customers.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Isuzu puts local testing first

And on the new N-series (known in Japan as the ELF range), 4×2 versions won’t go on sale in Australia until the start of 2025, followed later in the year by 4×4 models. Despite the seemingly long wait, Isuzu Australia’s upbeat light-duty product manager Jeff Gibson has no doubt whatsoever that the newcomers will simply reinforce N-series’ staggeringly tight and tireless grip on light-duty domination.

With Gibson describing the N-series as “a winner in so many ways”, the new line-up includes a significantly updated cab design, an enhanced suite of standard safety functions and in an undisguised bid to wrest an even greater slice of the light-duty category, an expanded tipper range and vitally, even more models able to be driven on a car licence.

“We also have some neat new model options,” he continued, citing a 6.5 tonne gross weight rating for the narrow cab NKR which excels in tight areas, and 150hp and 175hp versions of an updated four cylinder 4J engine. Have no doubt, Isuzu Australia’s attack on the ‘tradie ute’ sector will only intensify with its latest light-duty workhorses.

Cut-away view of Isuzu’s new nine-speed dual-clutch automated transmission for the next generation N-series

Notably though, the new generation N-series will see the introduction of a nine-speed dual-clutch automated transmission known as ISIM, or Isuzu Smooth Intelligent Transmission. Specific details on ratios and models offering the new box are currently limited but with claims for seamless shifts and a ratio spread providing the versatility of low-speed manoeuvring and efficient cruising speeds, Isuzu has obvious confidence in the new shifter’s merits for a diverse range of roles.

Moreover, a typically positive Jeff Gibson was in no doubt of the new transmission’s potential despite the added complexity of a dual-clutch system, and along with all other aspects of the latest N-series stable, he admits to being keen to put upcoming pilot models through their final paces in Australian conditions.

Yet as Isuzu Australia demonstrated during last year’s Brisbane Truck Show, a battery electric (EV) version of the next generation N-series was on the cards from the outset.

Joining diesel-powered counterparts, local trials of the N-series EV will start later this year. “We also have several Japanese-spec N-series battery electric models due to arrive shortly,” Jeff Gibson explained, adding that the electric trucks will be rated at gross weight limits of 4.5 and 7.5 tonnes and obviously aimed at shorthaul roles.

Flashback to the 2023 Brisbane Truck Show where Isuzu Australia heralded a new era for its light-duty N-series, complete with a battery-electric EV model

The 4.5 tonne model known as the eNLR features a three-battery configuration with 60kWh capacity while the 7.5 tonne eNPR uses a five-battery configuration with 100kWh capacity.

Again though, launch of the new N-series will only come after the reshaped and rejuvenated four cylinder F-series family fires the first salvo later this year.

First to fire

To the casual observer, the four cylinder F-series may seem something of a modest toiler in the overall Isuzu arsenal but the simple fact is that in the nine to 12 tonnes gross vehicle weight segment of the medium-duty market, these babies of the F-series family pack plenty of competitive clout.

Indeed, as Isuzu Australia’s pre-eminent ‘Prince of Powerpoint’, medium and heavy-duty product manager Simon Humphries asserts, the four cylinder F-series is a consistent contributor to the brand’s long dominance in medium-duty volumes, regularly achieving more than 50 percent of all sales in its class.

Voicing the virtues of these first arrivals in Isuzu’s next generation range, a typically bullish Simon Humphries states, “These all-new models deliver on the design premise, with best-in-class safety features, new cab design and improved ergonomics, the latest exhaust emissions treatment and new cabin and engine combinations.”

Moreover, “We’ve retained and further enhanced our four cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled engine with lower exhaust emissions courtesy of the new selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system for lower NOx output.”

Isuzu Australia’s Holy Grail is to have a genuine prime mover on its books, namely the new Isuzu Giga now running in Japan with a Volvo 13 litre powertrain

Furthermore, in on-road models the engine now produces sprightly outputs of 177kW (240hp) and 765Nm of torque, and 154kW (210hp) and 726Nm in the FSS 4×4 version.

Transmission choices are a six-speed automated box or a six-speed manual.

Safety has played a big part in all the new models and according to Simon Humphries, the four cylinder F-series variants feature, “… three new safety systems on top of what was already a class-leading package”.

In a press statement he explained, “We now have adaptive driving beam, full-speed adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition,” along with the inclusion in some models of an auto lighting system and rain sensing wipers. Additionally, the FSS 4×4 model gets advanced emergency braking and electronic stability control which, Humphries emphasises, is a first for Japanese vehicles in this category.

Furthermore, FRR and FRD versions receive a full air electronic braking system while electronic architecture has been boosted for better integration of ancillary systems from equipment suppliers and the like.

On the inside, Simon Humphries insists the interior is all-new with a comprehensively redesigned layout highlighted by a large full-colour information display screen between the speedo and tacho, Isri’s new driver’s suspension seat and a steering wheel with control buttons for various functions including cruise control and the information display screen.

Likewise, and without too much surprise, the exterior of all models has undergone a major rework with new lamp assemblies and what Isuzu describes as aerodynamically sculpted body panels. In short, inside and out, there will be no difficulty in differentiating the new from the old.

Of course, once the new four cylinder F-series and light-duty N-series models are entrenched in the market, Isuzu will concentrate on launching its super-successful six cylinder F-series models in 4×2, 6×4 and finally, 8×4 configurations.

A potent part of the six cylinder stable will be the popular FSR, FTS and FV models punched by the 6.7 litre Euro 6 engine derived from Isuzu’s alliance with engine powerhouse Cummins, and all coupled to an Allison automatic transmission.

Furthermore, Humphries continues, “We have upped the spec on our heavy-duty FV model (also powered by the 6.7 litre engine from Cummins) with a higher capacity steer axle, full-air disc brakes and an all-new chassis frame.”

Moving up the weight range, “In our heavy-duty FX and FY (twin-steer) models we’ll see the introduction of our 9.8 litre Euro 6 Isuzu engine and once again, a shift to auto only with Allison’s HD4430 transmission across all models.

“The trucks will also receive higher capacity Meritor steer axles and Meritor full-air disc brakes on all models, plus a comprehensive ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) package,” Simon Humphries concluded.

There are, of course, still many details of Isuzu’s next generation trucks yet to be presented, with little doubt that all will be revealed as each new model range is launched.

As for assessing the merits and manners of the new trucks, those things, too, will have to wait. Our quick trip to Japan was, after all, an intentionally broad insight rather than a hands-on experience, albeit with an entertaining excursion to the Tokyo Motor Show or as it’s known these days, the Japan Mobility Show.

In effect, Isuzu Australia was simply laying the platform for what’s to come and if history and first impressions are anything to go by, what’s coming is a continuation and perhaps even an expansion of a level of market domination which has no equal in the history of the Australian trucking industry.

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