Hino is not a major factor in the American medium-duty-truck market, and while you may have seen a few of its low cab-over-engine (COE) trucks, you might not know how the name is pronounced—Hee-no. But the Japanese builder's U.S. arm aims to change that with its new domestically produced Class 4 through 7 conventional-cab models.
Most North American buyers prefer conventionals, so Hino is going where the numbers are by building "hooded" vehicles for use here, and phasing out its highly regarded but slow-selling low COEs. Quick drives of prototypes proved that the conventionals have roominess and high maneuverability that are valuable in urban operations, and suggest that they possess the ruggedness of Hino's current trucks.
There's no doubt that the company is serious about becoming a major contender in the North American medium-duty market because:
- The trucks will be built in California, with cabs and engines coming from Japan but most chassis components—from frame rails to wheels—being sourced in the United States. Assembly here will begin this Fall. Meanwhile, production has begun in Japan, and sales started this month.
- Roger Penske, the race car driver-turned highly successful businessman, is among the financial backers of Hino Motors Sales, the New York-based headquarters that's unofficially known as Hino Trucks. A Penske lieutenant and former Freightliner executive, Derek Kaufman, now heads this operation. He is expanding Hino's dealer body and invigorating it with new Web-based business operations and programs for truck operators.
- Toyota Motors of Japan owns the controlling interest in Tokyo-based Hino Motors, and is backing Hino's new ventures here financially and physically. Toyota's pickup-bed plant in Long Beach will do the final assembly on the new conventionals.
The new trucks are powered by the latest versions of Hino's 5- and 8-liter J-series diesels. And they have American driveline components from Allison, Eaton, Dana, Meritor, Hendrickson and Accuride, among others. I drove several of them during a product introduction in late October at the California Speedway in Fontana—not incidently, among Roger Penske's interests, though he didn't attend this event.
Driving included short swings through a course marked with orange cones and meant to simulate city streets. The low-speed course showed off the new trucks' tight turning circles, and demonstrated their good outward visibility and how they go over bumps and other obstacles with little shake or shudder.
But this was a speedway and I wanted higher velocities. So with a proper escort, I took two of the new trucks out on the speedway complex's perimeter road, where they were quiet and rode smoothly. The road has some sharp curves and its marked speed limit is 15 mph, but there was no other traffic. I mashed the gas pedals and reached 60 mph with one truck and 65 with the other. The 8-liter, six-cylinder Hino diesel had the power to build up and maintain respectable interstate-highway speeds, but the 5-liter four-banger begins running out of breath about 50 mph.
You'll know which engine is in each truck, and its gross vehicle weight rating, by its numerical model designation. For example, the truck featured here is the 268, rated at 26,000 pounds GVW with the 8-liter engine. Other models are the 145, 165, 185, 238 and 338. Eaton manual transmissions, Aisen and Allison automatics, and Meritor axles are among the driveline components.
The 5-liter (306-cubic-inch) diesel in the three lighter and smaller models is an inline Four rated at 175 horsepower with 347 pounds-feet of torque. The Class 6 model 238 and this 268 have an 8-liter (489-ci) inline Six rated at 220 hp/520 lbs.-ft., while the Class 7 model 338 gets a 260-hp/585-lbs.-ft. rating of the 8-liter Six.
The diesels are lightweight and compact. They are virtually smokeless and odorless, and I neither saw nor smelled any diesel fumes while walking among lined-up trucks whose engines were idling. They'll be even cleaner with ultra-low-sulfur fuel mandated here by late summer of '06, engineers said. The diesels have Denso high-pressure common-rail injection systems, cooled exhaust-gas recirculation and Garrett variable-nozzle turbochargers, so meet the new emissions limits that took effect this month for imports and in October '02 for domestic builders.
The 5-liter Four is snappy off the line when paired with a smooth, Japanese-made Aisen 4-speed automatic. In tight corners and down short straightaways the truck was as nimble as a station wagon. An Eaton 5-speed manual transmission is standard.
Eaton 6-speed manuals are in the heavier models, including this 268. The transmission has a tight shift pattern and the lever felt a bit rubbery. In the first few go-arounds, I sometimes pushed the lever into 3rd or 5th when I wanted 1st or 3rd. I found the same thing with similar trannies in other midrange truck makes, and as with them, I soon learned to feel for the right gear.
Like most of the new models, this truck had hydraulic brakes, which seemed entirely adequate, though there was no load in the 24-foot stakeside body to really test them. The Class 7 truck will come with full air brakes, which many operators will welcome for their greater endurance and parts availability.
Three to six wheelbases are available in each of the models. The longer wheelbases, of course, add to turning circles, but a tight 51-degree wheel cut aids maneuverability. Engineers said a Hino conventional with its 3-foot-long hood has a turning circle only a foot more than a comparable Hino low COE. Ladder-type frames have C-channel rails set the American-standard 34 inches apart, and rail tops and sides are "clean" for easy mounting of bodies and chassis equipment.
The steel cab used on all models has a solid feel and shook very little as I went over simulated potholes and bumps on the marked street course. Steps were generally well placed, as were interior grab handles. The cab is wide with plenty of room for three-across seating. Standard seats are solid mounted but ride quality was good, thanks to effective front and rear suspension design. Seat covers are rugged-looking Vinyl, which began getting sticky as outside temps approached 100; more breathable cloth is available.
Instruments are sparse, though a large speedometer and tachometer are highly legible. They're faced with an attractive blue hue with green, yellow and red bars to suggest proper revving. Switches and controls all seem well thought out and easy to use. The ignition is in the steering column, and the column itself tilts and telescopes so all drivers can set the wheel to suit themselves.
The lever for the cable-type parking brake is awkwardly positioned on the floor, to the driver's right. I soon learned to just slap a release pad on the lever and let it bang loose, instead of trying to grasp the lever while using my thumb to unlock it.
Drivers will probably like the truck best for its good outward visibility and exceptional maneuverability. Little of the hood appears through the windshield—also an attribute of competitors' current midrange conventionals.
The new Hinos have a definite American feel, and their mostly American components should be easy to maintain and parts readily obtainable, through Hino dealers or independent parts stores. Yet the trucks have the economical and long-lived Hino diesel—maybe the best part of past (since the mid-1980s in the United States) low COE models, though there's nothing bad about a Hino, if you believe enthusiastic owners. My guess is that they, and many new customers, will like these conventionals every bit as well.