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Isuzu Trucks has come in swinging on the side of drivers and fleets with a comprehensive, car-like safety upgrade to its giant-killer N Series of light-duty trucks backed by a longer six-year warranty.
The brand is booming in Australia with pole position for the past 32 consecutive years and its light-duty (LD) N Series has a lion’s share of 24.3 per cent of the segment, selling 7300 units in the first nine months of this year.
Now it’s adding more traction in the segment with the upgrades in safety and the extended warranty poised to lure more buyers and – importantly – strengthen its growing audience of workers discarding their dual-cab utes and moving to more heavy-duty vehicles with larger payloads and increased durability.
This transitional buyer moving to the N Series from utes is an expanding market. Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL) chief engineer of product strategy, Simon Humphries, said that while he couldn’t substantiate exact numbers of the sales to ute owners, anecdotally he believed it was about one-quarter of new N Series buyers.
The strength of Isuzu’s smallest truck range in Australia is attributed mainly to its ‘Ready-to-Work’ product line that, as the name implies, is a range of factory-built trucks and bodies purchased from the showroom floor without the delay of contracting an aftermarket bodybuilder.
Mr Humphries said that there was “a lot of room to grow” in appealing to ute drivers, including the N Series’ GVM rating starting at 4500kg, and now upgraded tow rating of 4000-4500kg. This compares with a dual-cab ute with a GVM of about 3500kg and a tow rating of about 3500kg.
Appeasing fleets and private buyers, the truck-maker has also boosted its safety suite under an umbrella Isuzu Intelligent Safety inventory, its first big step into safety since the current N Series regime was unveiled in 2007.
It consists of an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) that is highlighted by autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with forward-collision warning (FCW), lane-departure warning, traffic movement warning (alerts when the vehicle ahead moves away at the traffic lights), distance warning (to prevent tail gating) and automatic headlights that include auto dimming.
Key to the AEB and FCW is a Hitachi stereo 3D camera that is mounted on the dashboard – unlike rivals that place it at the top-edge of the windscreen and so potentially miss viewing low objects including pedestrians.
This positioning also means it does not obstruct the driver’s view of the road.
IAL national sales manager Les Spaltman said his company’s data showed the largest percentage of serious injury and death involving trucks was collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.
He said the new ADAS was “designed to be an extra set of eyes on the road, helping the driver monitor everything from other road users, pedestrians and cyclists, through to changing traffic conditions”.
Mr Spaltman said the new ADAS kit was on all new N Series models except the NLS and NPS. He said it was in the product planning for the future and indicated that in these higher-payload variants, which are predominantly used for longer haul operations, the new camera system would be enhanced with radar. Radar, he said, was better for longer distances and suited the NLS/NPR target buyer.
In launching the new N Series, which becomes available from dealers this week, IAL admitted much of the model was carried over from the outgoing version.
This includes the oily bits including engines and transmissions, drivetrain and suspension and steering.
That means an enduring 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel rated at 110kW/375Nm and 5.2-litre version for 140kW/513Nm (depending on truck variant) mated to either a five-speed manual or automated manual box with six forward ratios.
Much of the new changes for 2021 focus on new electronic systems because of the upgraded safety tech and telematics, including a new connector for fleet telematics and a speed limiter than can be set by the dealer or fleet operators.
Externally, trainspotters will note new front indicator lenses while inside there’s the AEB camera mount on the leading edge of the dashboard.
The new trucks also get a cab-tilt warning system and a new upholstery colour (now blue and grey) and fabric material, with colours also changing for the cabin interior plastics, now a light grey above the window waistline and black below.