Isuzus Quon quest

There’s nothing higher on Isuzu Australia’s wish list than a genuine prime mover model but until very recently, it all seemed an elusive dream for the indomitable market leader. However, there’s now hope on the horizon since news from Japan that Isuzu and UD have combined to produce prime movers powered by a 13 litre Volvo Group powertrain.

Viewed from outside corporate corridors, it has always seemed an odd arrangement. Like, why would Isuzu on April Fool’s Day 2021 spend 243 billion Yen – around A$2.7 billion – to buy UD from Volvo Group, yet agree to Volvo Group Australia (VGA) maintaining distribution of the UD brand in our part of the world?

Surely Isuzu’s Japanese masters knew how much its massively successful Australian offshoot, Isuzu Australia Ltd (IAL), yearned for a competitive prime mover model such as UD’s highly regarded Quon.

Surely they knew that with an effective prime mover in its line-up, IAL would be in a perfect position to add heavy-duty leadership to its vice-like grip on light and medium-duty mantles after 34 years dominating the overall Australian truck market.

Except for the badges, the Giga cab is identical to UD’s Quon and that’s certainly not a bad thing

And surely they knew the frustration and consternation it would cause among IAL’s loyal executives to allow VGA to keep the classy Quon in its ranks while their own prime mover portfolio effectively remained a void.

Like I said, odd!

However, there now appears light at the end of the tunnel for IAL. As things stand at moment it’s little more than a distant possibility, a dim glimmer of hope, but it is nonetheless a far brighter prospect than anything else which has appeared over the past two years.

Indeed, almost two years to the day since Isuzu acquired UD from Volvo, the two Japanese brands have announced their ‘first joint development’ which effectively sees both brands offering the same Quon-derived prime mover products in single-drive and tandem-drive configurations. With the same cab inside and out, the only things distinguishing the models of each brand are different badges on different grilles.

Currently available in the Japanese market only, the trucks officially went on sale in Japan on April 4, with Isuzu and UD retaining their Giga and Quon model names respectively.

Isuzu Australia’s Andrew Harbison. Ever hopeful that a truck like the latest Giga will allow a serious shot at heavy-duty market leadership

Perhaps the most surprising development of all though, the 6×4 models of both brands are powered by Volvo Group’s versatile GH13 engine with outputs up to 530hp. While single-drive versions use Volvo’s 11 litre GH11 engine – currently peaking at 460hp on the Australian market – the introduction of a 500-plus 13 litre in-line six for the Japanese heavy truck business is a major breakthrough for UD and potentially an even bigger asset for Isuzu.

For many years and through numerous Volvo-appointed executive regimes at UD, and despite repetitive pleas by Australian executives, the Swedish maker has steadfastly refused to allow its long-serving 13 litre engine to be used in anything other than Volvo or Mack product.

Predictably, and critically, these latest Isuzu and UD models stir through the newest version of the Escot 12-speed automated transmission which is, of course, Japan’s derivative of Volvo Group’s super-successful I-shift stirrer.

Underneath, the big news is the installation of a Volvo Group powertrain in both Isuzu and UD models, led by the 13 litre GH13 engine (left) coupled to the Escot (I-shift) automated transmission and hydraulic retarder combination (right)

But Japan is one thing, Australia something else, and it would be a breathtaking surprise if VGA had plans to introduce the 13 litre Quon in our market. After all, a Quon with more than 500hp and much the same powertrain and features package as its Swedish comrade would almost certainly infringe on the enduring popularity of Volvo’s FM range. And now, of course, with Isuzu poised to pounce at a moment’s notice, there’s even less likelihood of Volvo agreeing to anything that may challenge the Swedish brand.

Isuzu, on the other hand, has no such qualms. Indeed, with not the slightest internal competition to worry about, IAL would welcome the revitalised Giga with unbridled enthusiasm, deploying its fierce marketing prowess and established dealer network to great effect in a bold bid to wrest heavy-duty market leadership from big hitters Kenworth and Volvo. 

It’s worth noting that IAL is already entrenched in third spot on the heavy-duty ladder. Furthermore, given UD’s strong acceptance on the Australian market under VGA’s stewardship, it doesn’t take much imagination to see an aggressive IAL making the most of every opportunity if it was to acquire a prime mover with a modern cab and efficient 500-plus powertrain.

UD Quon on the road in Japan. Isuzu owns UD but in Australia, Volvo still has distribution rights

Again though, as things stand at the moment, there’s absolutely no indication from Isuzu Japan that its Australian arm will be receiving the ‘joint development’ Giga anytime soon.

Moreover, the thought of a powerful competitor like IAL having access to the 13 litre powertrain would be anathema to VGA, so it’s a fair bet Volvo interests here and elsewhere will be working extremely hard to keep its hardware firmly ensconced in the Japanese market and nowhere else. Or at least, nowhere there’s the risk of whittling Volvo’s sales volumes.

Still, there’s little doubt that within IAL there’s now a wave of expectation that the tide might be turning and sometime down the track, a revitalised Giga may indeed land in Australia and with it, the ability to tackle the heavy-duty class with a truly effective model.


For Isuzu Australia director and chief operating officer Andrew Harbison and his team, it’s an expectation which has been simmering long enough. 

To the point

In our exclusive interview last year, Andrew Harbison was surprisingly, uncommonly blunt when questions about Isuzu’s lack of a heavy-duty contender entered the conversation. As recent events suggest, he was also remarkably astute in forecasting that IAL’s heavy-duty prospects are closely tied to developments between Isuzu and UD in Japan.

The simple fact is Harbison knows full well what IAL could achieve with an effective prime mover model and its continued absence fuels the fires of frustration in a man who, under the cover of cultivated corporate composure, harbours a fierce competitive streak.

It’s no secret, of course, that Isuzu’s former Giga model didn’t do the brand’s heavy-duty aspirations any favours and there were few – if any – tears when it was retired from sale. To say its acceptance on the Australian market was modest is an understatement of grand proportion. However, when asked if the previous Giga’s departure from the Australian market was effectively the end of Isuzu Australia’s heavy-duty ambitions, Harbison’s response was immediate. “No, not at all. Absolutely not.

Compass GIGA Quon Front-low_res-scale-4_00x.jpg

“Yes, we’re very much in the hands of our parent company in terms of what product we’re able to get but I am as fiercely driven as ever to achieve what’s possible.

“I’d really like to have a decent heavy-duty product where we can have a real crack at that market. Give it a real shake.”

But if that was a question to stir the competitive embers, the next one threw fuel on the fire: Are you envious of Fuso with its 510 hp Shogun and Hino’s new 700-series heavy-duty models?

“Absolutely. It pisses me off.” It was, by any measure, an uncharacteristic outburst which, more than anything else, demonstrated the depth of dismay at Isuzu’s lack of a suitable heavy-duty contender for its supremely successful Australian operation.

Soon after though, a thoughtful Harbison declared, “Isuzu obviously has a picture where the future product is going to come from and UD is certainly part of all that, and I think the future technology for the next generation of (heavy-duty) product will be a combination of Isuzu and UD.


“Unfortunately, I can’t give you a timeframe,” he continued. “It could be tomorrow or it could be a couple of years. The Japanese will decide the timing but I genuinely believe that ultimately, the Australian market will have an Isuzu/UD heavy-duty product.”

Asked what level of success could be achieved with the right heavy-duty product supported by Isuzu Australia’s extensive marketing and dealer strength, an adamant Andrew Harbison asserted, “We could deliver another thousand trucks a year, and I don’t say that with any arrogance.

“It is what I genuinely believe we are capable of doing, particularly looking at the success we’ve already achieved in the light end of heavy-duty with our 6×4 (rigid) and eight-wheeler models.

Gathering his thoughts for a few moments, a convincing Andrew Harbison concluded, “Our target is to be number one in every market. 

“That hasn’t changed and with the right product, we’ll make it happen. 


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