While it has not yet been introduced to American and Canadian customers, North American truck writers got a sneak peek and a test drive of Hino's all-new light-duty COE at the company's Hamura truck plant near Tokyo last week. The official launch takes place at the NTEA Work Truck Show Indianapolis on March 8, 2011.
The truck pictured above is a working prototype of Hino's new hybrid Class 4 COE used by beverage distributor, Ito En, in Tokyo. You'll have to wait until March to see the newly designed North American cab.
The truck pictured above is a working prototype of Hino's new hybrid Class 4 COE used by beverage distributor, Ito En, in Tokyo. You'll have to wait until March to see the newly designed North American cab.

Hino Motors Sales U.S.A. currently offers only conventional trucks in Class 6 and 7, and since 2004 has not offered a COE in North America. When the COE returns to our shores in March, it'll be a made-for-America cab and chassis, featuring standard 33-in. chassis width, and cab designed not for the smaller Japanese driver, but for taller -- and wider -- North American drivers.

The emission system uses both EGR and SCR to meet EPA 2010 standards.

You'll have to wait until March to see the new cab, but suffice it to say it's been restyled with an emphasis on aerodynamics, visibility and driver comfort. We're told a crew-cab will be on the option list too, in an effort to appeal to municipal and service-oriented fleets such as landscapers and utility crews.

The New Hybrid System

Without giving too much away, the hybrid version of the new COE is third-generation hybrid technology, which Hino first introduced in 1991 to power a transit bus -- and several of those original vehicles are still in service. Along the way, many improvements have been made in reliability and efficiency. What we'll see in North America is the peak of that evolution, with better communication between the engine and the hybrid electric system, improved efficiency through combining diesel and electric power to the drive wheels, and longer battery life.

It's a parallel system that uses regenerative braking to charge a bank of NiMH batteries, coupled with what Hino calls its hybrid adaptive control system to assist the diesel during drive cycles. Hino says combining diesel and electric power to keep the engine in its fuel economy sweet spot as much as possible improves fuel efficiency by as much as 37 percent. The diesel engine shuts off completely when the vehicle comes to a stop. Releasing the brake restarts the diesel automatically. Additional fuel savings can be had by switching between normal and "eco" driving modes.

Hino says the batteries have a life expectancy of eight to ten years, and combined with the rest of the hybrid system, add less than 450 pounds to truck.

One customer currently evaluating the latest version of the hybrid system, Tokyo-based beverage distributor, Ito En, said they were substantially impressed by the improvements in the new generation.

"We began using hybrids five years ago, but the older trucks did not perform as well as we had hoped," the company's maintenance director said. "Since we began testing this new hybrid system, we are seeing fuel economy improvements in the 35 percent range."

Ito En operates 2,600 Class 4/5 distribution trucks throughout Japan, including many CNG-powered vehicles. The maintenance director said the company was moving away from the CNG trucks because of their limited range.

"The CNG trucks did contribute to our CO2 reduction targets, but we feel the hybrid vehicle will do better than the CNG in that regard, without the problems imposed by a limited fuel supply."

A Quick Spin

While attending the pre-launch event at the Hamura assembly plant, journalists were offered a couple of laps around a test track in the new trucks. I confess to having limited experience in this class of vehicle, but speaking to the roominess and driving environment, I'd say Hino customers will be happy with the U.S.-sized cab. The extra width permits an optional middle seat, or that space can be used for storage, clipboards, coffee cups and other stuff drivers tote around.

The windshield is immense, and the obstruction caused by the windshield pillars in minimal, and I mean minimal. Engineers took great pains to place the pillars as far outside the normal sight lines as possible -- a real advantage in tight urban environments.

The four-cylinder, 5-liter, 210-hp, J05E diesel is more than enough for a Class 4/5 truck, and it delivers 441 lb ft of torque. It's peppy and responsive at the high end of the rpm band, and there's enough torque in the lower end to prevent unnecessary upshifts. The 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission uses a torque converter, and it gets up into the higher gears pretty quickly. The hybrid version uses both a torque converter and a wet clutch, but the clutch engages and disengages automatically depending on the hybrid cycle.

The truck turns on a dime and feels nice and stable on the road, even in tight turns.

I'll save my impression of the hybrid system until the truck launches here in North America in March. In the mean time, my first impressions are that North American drivers will savor the cab size as well as the maneuverability of these trucks compared to current conventional-style alternatives.

What We'll Get Here

Coming to a Hino dealer near you sometime this summer are two versions of the new cab-over truck. The Class 4 version is called the 155 Model, with GVW ratings up to 14,500 lb. The 19,000-lb GVW Class 5 version is called the 195 Model. Both will be available with wheelbases up to 215 in.

The diesel versions of both trucks are expected to be on dealer lots by mid-summer. The hybrids will be available before year's end, but only in select markets, Hino says.

More info: Hino Motors Sales U.S.A.