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UD Trucks: No flash, no pizzazz, just steadfast delivery

Wednesday March 4 2020

 UD trucks

New UD trucks on sale. PHOTO | CMC MOTORS 

BARAZA JM
By BARAZA JM
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Anyone remember Nissan Diesel UD? The bus and truck company? Well, a few things that need mentioning happened to it over the years: first, out went the Nissan Diesel name, which was truncated to UD Trucks – which in turn was a portent for what came next: the bus division was shut down. All this occurred under Volvo’s ownership (which has since changed), but automotive companies merge and/or buy each other out all the time, so that’s not a big deal. The big deal is that UD Trucks have a pair of new vehicles out for the Kenyan market.

Before we get into what these vehicles are, let’s briefly discuss the UD brand first. It is one of the more long-lasting heavy commercial marques in memory, having served in East Africa stoically and without fuss over several decades, as far back as the early ‘80s, if not earlier. No flash, no pizzazz, just steadfast delivery as expected over time and distances that sometimes surpassed expectation. It should come as no surprise then to learn that UD stands for ‘Ultimate Dependability’ and no, I'm not making that up, it really does mean that – who here does not remember the Ndovu (“Elephant”), Dubu (“Bear”) and Nyati (“Buffalo”) prime movers from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s? Hard as rocks, tough as nails, square-jawed and steely-eyed, these trucks were as relentlessly insistent as they were stoic, not unlike the beasts they were named after. They looked just as mean too...

You know the makings of a good enterprise are primarily defined by how well they listen to feedback and how well they adapt to changing times. Let us begin with the Croner, the MKE180:

This 9.9 GVW truck is the update for the now-extinct MKB210. If you don’t know what those initials mean, think of a City Hoppa bus... a large number of these are MKB210s. Now you get the idea.

A common refrain in the transport industry points out the fact that UD vehicles, despite their power and reliability, were extremely thirsty. This was true, but the payoff was you could drive them into the ground and beyond, and the next day they would fire up with nary a qualm. I knew a few bus companies that operated the turbocharged CB46 model with dead turbos and they just kept running. I know of a similar machine that just kept going irrespective of the amount of beating it took while in service: The Terminator.

UD Truck lovers rejoice because underneath the Croner’s cabin, gone is the 6997cc naturally aspirated six-cylinder posho mill and in with an all-new 5100cc four-cylinder unit with a turbo and intercooler, feeding power and torque through a familiar six-speed manual gearbox. The engine develops the same 180hp that its predecessor did, but fewer cubic inches and a turbo means fuel economy has improved drastically.

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The smaller engine and the addition of a turbo also means another MKB210 weakness has been addressed: noise and (lack of) refinement, or NVH rather (noise, vibration and harshness). Despite popular belief, turbochargers do muffle a lot of exhaust noise rather than amplify it, and the MKE180 is no exception. Gone is the droning roar of the MKB210, now replaced by a more hushed clutter accompanied by a faint whine from the turbine under load. This should please truck nuts who love engine sounds to no end.

There are some design considerations as well. The radiator and intercooler are situated further back and away from the front bumper (which is now painted steel instead of plastic) to minimise mechanical damage in frontal collisions.

I suspect the smaller truck will be a bigger seller than the prime mover, for very obvious reasons, but it is the prime mover, the Quester, that not only caught my attention, but is also what CMC Motors really wanted me to see. I guess we share interests, then, huh?

(The CMC name is stuck in our heads even though we know we should be referring to the franchise as Al Futtaim.)

The GWE420 “Quester”

The Quester looks European, if you get what I mean. It is a complete redesign, yet it’s also an evolution of the previous design we saw with earlier models. It too has had had improvements done based on feedback.

The seats are more comfortable, which is a key element when plying long distances, sometimes over bad roads, and spending numerous hours behind the driver's seat.

They have kept the truck basic to keep the price down, but you do get conveniences like power windows, heaters and an automatic gearbox called ESCOT whose shift lever is a dead ringer for Volvo’s i-Shift kit. There is the option of a 12-speed manual, basically a six-speed with high and low range, for those who prefer to work the clutch pedal.

Most importantly, the truck comes with a factory-installed FMS (fleet management system) that is meant to maximise uptime as well as help manage the truck more efficiently. Besides the usual tracking and fuel economy monitoring, this system also diagnoses the truck on-site and sends a ship-to-shore telematic error report that informs the higher-ups where the exact problem lies so that when they send out a rescue team, this team comes fully prepared.

I drove both trucks briefly last week, and naturally, I noticed a few things that are different from previous models. This is not a full-on test review – that will come later. It is more of an introduction and a glimpse at what to expect from UD Trucks going forward.

Well, in keeping with modern times, both trucks have a digitised instrument cluster. It declutters the cluster by compacting the readout and it gives the driver the same diagnostic report that is sent out to the FMS. The speedometer and tachometer are still analog affairs though, which simplifies the electronics and reduces instances of failure (pure electronic systems do not have a confidence-inspiring shelf life).

Euro 3 engines are what is available right now, so fear not about “dirty diesel” (which doesn’t really exist except in shady corners). However, the government declared its desire to switch to Euro 4 in the near future and UD people assure me they are ready and willing to make the switch when the time comes.

Pricing: at Sh4.8 million, the Croner is priced exactly like its competition, but the Quester mops the floor by costing more than a million shillings less than its European competition (Sh12.5 million versus Sh13.5 million for Scania and 14 million for Mercedes Benz, give or take a few grand here or there). Both vehicles can be fully financed by any bank in the country, as I was confidently (and confidentially) informed.

*****

There is a lot more technical material to be discussed about these trucks, things that potential owners would be very interested in, but for those, kindly await the full reviews that will come in future. For now, let us digest the fact that, like The Terminator, the UD Truck is back, or as hip hop artistes like to put it, “They ain't never left.”

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