The new Hino 500.    Picture: HINO
The new Hino 500. Picture: HINO

The Hino truck brand may be 75 years old, but the heavy and extra-heavy truck manufacturer is certainly moving ahead strongly in the 21st century. Production is increasing, exports are growing, a hi-tech factory has been commissioned and an important new-generation Hino 500 range is being rolled out worldwide.

Prototype units

What will be of most interest to South African truck operators is the fact that the current Hino500, which has been on sale locally for the past 14 years and is the mainstay of many fleets, is being replaced by a new model. It will go into production in November at Hino SA’s factory at Prospecton, near Durban. Several prelaunch events are under way using preproduction prototype units.

South African trucking journalists visited Hino Motors in Japan recently to learn first-hand about the new model.

They were driven around a test track in the new 500 and were given a preview tour of the modern Koga plant, north of Tokyo, prior to its official opening later in 2017.

The new range of Hino 500 trucks is the result of many years’ intensive research and development in Japan and globally. The project began in 2010 and the first concept was presented to management a year later. It took five years of ongoing development before it went into production and was sold first in Indonesia in 2015.

Mamoru Tamazawa, chief engineer of the so-called "Wide Body" Hino 500, said that the design team’s focus points with the new project were to further enhance Hino’s reputation for outstanding quality, durability and reliability; and improve engine performance in terms of power and torque while cutting emissions and lowering fuel consumption. They also aimed at ensuring the new model provides a better driving experience in all aspects, Tamazawa said.

The model range has been extended to meet customer requirements and includes 6x4 models for the first time, while certain derivatives will be offered with a six-speed Allison fully automatic transmission.

The new Wide Body models will extend from 16-tonne to 28-tonne payload derivatives, while the current six-and eight-tonne models will be continuing unchanged.

The latest generation is now in production at a new factory, built on a greenfield site in Koga, about 120km north of Tokyo.

This is a high-tech truck manufacturing facility with a high proportion of robotisation — including 95% of the cab welding and 95% of the painting — to ensure highest-quality standards as well as production consistency.

Mother factory

Koga is considered the mother factory for Hino’s various overseas operations.

It is the export base for knocked-down and completely knocked-down kits for overseas assembly in 22 countries, including SA. Many of the 2,000 employees at the Koga plant have been relocated from the Hino City factory alongside the head office in an area of Tokyo that is now mainly residential.

The new Hino manufacturing facility in Japan.  Picture: QUICKPIC
The new Hino manufacturing facility in Japan. Picture: QUICKPIC

The factory is being closed, as restrictions have been put on factory operating hours and it has no space for expansion.

Another reason for the move to a new factory is that it marks a major investment by the company as it ramps up its production capacity.

The company is spreading its wings in more global markets than the current 90 countries in which it sells its trucks. This involves Hino SA, a member of the Toyota Group, looking for more sales in SA, while the company also intends establishing new markets in other sub-Saharan countries.

Record sales

In 2016 Hino sold a record 170,000 trucks and buses with the majority — 107,000 — having been exported to markets outside Japan. The biggest export market for Hino in 2016 was Indonesia, followed by Thailand and the US, with Hino SA in ninth position.

"We are seeing economic growth in many of our markets but, unfortunately, not in SA and that’s the reason we are predicting stronger global sales in 2017 than we had in 2016," said Toshiaki Yasuda, managing officer for overseas sales and marketing at Hino Motors.

"The new Hino 500 has been well accepted in the markets where it has been launched already, particularly in Indonesia and Thailand."

Sales of the new model in Indonesia were up 60% compared to those of the previous model over the same period.

"We are looking forward to the launch of the new Hino 500 in SA, where it is an important model in our range and one of the keys to growing sales in the region," Yasuda said.

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