Japan is a land of contrasts. On the one hand there are places that look like nothing much has changed in the past 400 years. And on the other there are sprawling cities like Tokyo where everything is hi-tech and modern, including the whizz-bang road networks that comprise multi-lane freeways which are eminently suitable for high productivity vehicles like semi-trailers or even B-doubles.
The reality is, though, that in the heavy-duty realm 8×4 rigid-bodied vehicles rule the roost on Japanese roads, accompanied by a smattering of semi-trailers and definitely no B-doubles or other high productivity combinations like those seen in Australia. It seems the need for manoeuvrability in the narrow streets and alleyways where trucks must deliver overrides the benefits of having longer vehicles which could ostensibly carry as much freight as two of the rigid trucks that are commonplace in Japan at present.
This is a fact not lost on Hino, and during a presentation at its Hamura facility entitled ‘Envisioning 2025’ the company was at pains to point out the ways in which it wants to assist in the continuous improvement of the global transportation of both people and goods.
Speaking at the presentation was Toshiaki Yasuda, who graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in March 1983. The same year he started working for Toyota Motor Corporation (Hino’s parent company) in its Japan Europe department and over the ensuing three decades went on to fulfil numerous roles with Toyota in both Japan and Europe.
In January 2014 Yasuda San joined Hino Motors Limited as Senior General Manager and in April 2015 was appointed Managing Officer. His current responsibilities encompass Marketing and Product Management/Support across Indonesia, Middle-East, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) regions.
Yasuda San began by expanding on Hino’s corporate mission: To make the world a better place to live by helping people and goods get where they need to go.
“The world we want to help create is a world where people and goods move freely, safely and efficiently,” he said. “A sustainable world that is prosperous and pleasant to live in, where transport is safe and free from traffic accidents.
“We also continue to strive for a world where the transport of people and goods does not tax the environment.”
He went on to outline Hino’s ‘Three Directions’ approach to supplying trucks and buses that do more.
“We will continue to develop comprehensive solutions for the increasingly complex challenges our customers and the world face,” Yasuda San said.
“Three challenges we need to work on in order of priority are Safety, Environment and Efficiency.
“With safety we need to eliminate serious traffic accidents and reduce accident casualties to zero. In terms of the environment we must make major reductions in CO2 emissions.
“The efficiency improvements we seek will support sustainable growth for our customer’s businesses and alleviate crises in logistics such as driver shortages.”
Emphasis on road safety
Hino Motors aims to achieve zero traffic accident casualties on expressways and regular roads. To do this the company plans to progressively develop its vehicles with systems that in the short term reduce human error and in the longer term eliminate human error as a cause of traffic accidents.
Initial measures to support safe driving are already in use including driver monitoring which detects inattentive driving and microsleeps. More advanced assisted driving systems – known as Pre-Crash Safety in Toyota and Hino parlance – such as autonomous braking are also being introduced.
Indeed, a demonstration of the autonomous braking ability of the new Hino 500 Series Standard Cab was one of the highlights Global Trailer experienced during the recent trip to Japan.
On Hino’s private test loop journalists had the privilege of riding in the truck with Hino personnel driving.
Travelling at a steady 60 km/h the truck was allowed to approach a simulation of a stationary car. With the driver trained to resist the natural urge to hit the brake pedal, as the truck reached about 30 metres from the car the brakes automatically applied, bringing the truck to a swift stop about five metres from the car. During the entire process the driver’s foot had clearly not touched the brake pedal.
This closely follows another exciting initiative known as the Driver Abnormality Response System or EDSS (Emergency Driving Stop System), which Hino introduced as standard equipment on its Selega tour coach around the middle of 2018.
Said to be a first in the commercial vehicle world, EDSS is an emergency braking system that can be activated by the driver, tour guide or even a passenger if the driver suffers a heart attack or sudden driving impairment while the vehicle is in motion.
From Hino’s perspective this development is an important part of the company’s drive towards zero traffic accident casualties using technology it believes should be issued to the world as a social responsibility of commercial vehicle manufacturers.
The system is said to be compliant with the technical guidelines formulated by the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
How it works
In incidents where the driver is suddenly incapacitated for whatever reason, the driver or tour guide pushes the emergency brake switch near the driver’s seat which gradually brings the vehicle to a stop.
The system also provides the passengers with EDSS switches located at the top of the front row of seats on the left and right sides. Obviously there needs to be strict instructions to passengers that the buttons may only be pushed in the case of emergency.
When activated, a warning buzzer sounds inside the coach and red lights built into the switches flash to inform passengers that the vehicle is being gradually brought to a stop.
This is accompanied by the horn intermittently sounding along with headlights, brake lights and hazard signals flashing to inform any nearby motorists and pedestrians of the abnormality.
Upon rolling out a number of safety systems that help mitigate the negative impacts of human error, Hino’s gaze is now fixed further down the track to a time when human error will be eliminated altogether.
To this end the company is working feverishly on the development of vehicles featuring Advanced Assisted Driving (semi-autonomous) systems with the ultimate goal being the successful deployment of fully autonomous (unmanned) vehicles in both stand-alone and platooning configurations.
Cutting CO2 emissions
Hino claims to be the first commercial vehicle manufacturer to have brought hybrid (diesel-electric) power to commercial reality with the introduction of the hybrid city bus in 1991.
Since then the company has continuously refined the hybrid concept with steadily increasing sales volumes enabling the purchase price to be reduced and so encouraging broader uptake of the technology.
In fact, since ’91 Hino has sold in excess of 16,000 hybrid vehicles, more than 3,000 of which have been sold outside of Japan including over 550 units into the Australian market.
With its hybrid buses and light-duty trucks now well established in the marketplace, Hino is concentrating on a new-generation hybrid version of its heavy-duty Profia truck (equivalent to the 700 Series heavy-duty model in Australia) and fully electric (EV) versions of the small Poncho bus and light-duty truck.
The Profia hybrid, complete with a high-tech lithium titanate battery, is scheduled for a 2019 launch in Japan. Meanwhile, the Poncho EV bus and the super low-floor light-duty EV truck – with the low floor designed to make loading and unloading easier – are expected to debut around 2020.
Hino’s long-term vision is that 100 per cent of its range will be powered by either hybrid, fuel cell or EV drivetrains by 2050.
Other lofty ambitions of the so-called Hino Environmental Challenge 2050 are a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions from production to scrapping.
This involves incorporating as many environmentally sustainable features as possible into its production facilities in addition to ensuring as many vehicle components as practicable are recyclable.
In other low emissions developments Hino is collaborating with Toyota to produce a hydrogen fuel-cell bus with plans afoot to also apply this technology to trucks.
The company also continues to strive for further emissions reductions with its conventional diesel-powered vehicles, part of which involves working with customers to educate drivers in forming consistent eco-driving habits.
High productivity vehicles
As previously mentioned, the bulk of Japan’s heavy-duty truck fleet currently comprises 8×4 rigid units which means there are a lot more trucks on Japanese freeways than there needs to be.
Considering the vast amounts of traffic congestion in and around the city of Tokyo, for example, removing 50 per cent of trucks from these roads makes good sense.
Hino recognises this and has a goal of enabling optimal operation using best-fit vehicles to increase loading efficiencies.
To this end the company has established NEXT Logistics Japan with a mission of responding directly to the challenges faced by its customers in the logistics industry such as driver shortages and declining cargo loading ratios.
Founded in June 2018, the new company which is wholly owned by Hino has begun demonstration tests regarding the following with the aim of establishing a new form of logistics: Realising a secure and safe logistics environment and high cargo loading ratios through the advanced utilisation of information as to three factors: driver, vehicle and cargo; and achieving high-efficiency, large-volume transport with platooning and road trains.
Furthermore, in the near future the company plans to offer even more value to customers and society through verification tests that are focused on commercialising autonomous driving and advanced environmental technologies.
At the conclusion of the trip it was clear that Hino has a comprehensive big picture view of its over-arching responsibilities as a commercial vehicle manufacturer.
While the company is highly proficient at its principal role of designing and building safe and efficient trucks and buses, it also clearly conveys a desire to be a good corporate citizen by being actively involved in the many other facets of transportation logistics – of both people and products – that are at the heart of modern societies worldwide.