UD Trucks launched their Croner medium-duty truck at a globally attended event in Bangkok last week. Arguably the most versatile truck platform in the medium-duty segment, the Croner line brings numerous cargo capacity, engine power and wheelbase geometry combinations, and has top-end mass and dimensions that make it bump up against the medium-heavy range of the spectrum.

Center-stage at the UD Trucks Croner launch held in Bangkok on March 1

It comes in three types with gross weight ratings from 10.4 all the way up to 17 tons. Units come either factory-built with bodies for long-haul, distribution and construction applications, or delivered as cab-chassis platforms to be worked on further by affiliated body-builders. Wheelbase lengths on all three types can be varied on the factory floor or by downstream builders from a minimum of 3450mm to a maximum of 6500mm, with increments of as little as 250mm.

From Nissan Diesel, to Volvo, to UD Trucks

Established in 1935 and known before as Nissan Diesel, UD Trucks became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volvo Group in 2007. The UD name, now taken to mean ultimate dependability, draws on market recognition for Nissan Diesel’s trademark two-stroke Uniflow Diesel engine first introduced in 1955. The Croner is the second new model to come from the integrated operations of the partnered brands, joining the heavy-duty Quester line-up that they introduced four years ago in 2013.

The similarities in the design of the Croner and the Quester indicate an affinity that’s confirmed by Volvo Group Trucks Asia president Jacques Michel. Michel says that the Croner and Quester tandem, sporting a common design language with their cabin fascia and character lines, represents a new class of trucks meant specifically for growth markets across Asia, Africa, the Middle-East and South America. The Croner and Quester now relegate their medium-duty Condor and heavy-duty Quon trucks (popular and long running Nisssan Diesel trucks with origins dating back to before Volvo’s buy-in) to mature markets like those of Japan and Australia.

Medium-duty Croners and heavy-duty Questers in front of UD Trucks’ manufacturing facility in Samut Prakan near Bangkok

Asked further about the distinctions between their growth and mature market offerings, Michel said that while mature markets are stereotyped as having stricter emission controls, advanced infrastructure, and better road conditions, UD Trucks’ experience serendipitously points to differing markets having different needs, different sets of expectations, it’s that simple. By the sheer weight of circumspection and engineering apparent in the Croner’s features, how these address essential needs with robust, even generous, engineering, it’s clear that UD Trucks is fielding a new model that’s meant to be ready for anything that’s thrown at it in the workhorse medium-trucks segment of growing markets.

Variable vehicle

The Croner comes in three size/weight types. Lightest is the compact MKE with dimensions meant for tight city streets and gross weight ratings from 10.4 to 11 tons. There’s the mid-size and multi-purpose LKE with 12 to 14 tons. And there’s the long-hauling medium-heavy PKE with 15 to 17 tons.

With tensile strength asserted to be the highest in its class and balanced with healthy flexibility to stave off metal fatigue, the Croner’s chassis frame comes pre-drilled with bolt holes for sizing the cargo bed with wheelbase lengths from a minimum of 3450mm on all three types, to a maximum of 5250mm for MKE and LKE types, or 6500mm for the big PKE. Facilitating adjustment in wheelbase lengths by as little as 250mm increments, and to keep things modular for any driveline tailoring, the driveshaft from engine to the differential on the rear axle is composed of undulating segments, each joint dampening and isolating the effect of road shocks on the driveline.

Unlike other medium-duty models, the Croner offers only two-axle 4×2 drivetrains with wheel pairs on the rear axle, no configurations with three-axle 6×4 layouts. This puts a lot on two axles, both literally and figuratively, and reveals how confident they are in their claims of class-leading axle loads, both up front and in back, and with axle sub-assemblies tolerating extended grease-change intervals nearly three times longer than is typical.

The cabin itself features exceptional ergonomics highlighted by a flowing dashboard design that’s shaped around the driver’s wider range of motions. The driver’s seat is spring suspended, something you seldom see on medium-duty trucks. And, reflecting how its amenities are meant for hours- or days-long drives, the Croner is offered with sleeper-cab options, another rarity in the medium-duty segment.

Downsized diesel

Michel says that when UD Trucks started their four year development of the Croner it was with the express goal of making it 5 percent more efficient than its other medium-duty trucks. Aside from aerodynamic cab designs with reduced drag coefficients, they achieved this with new and downsized engines on which power densities were increased with the use of “super pressure” CRDi systems featuring sophisticated electronic control of injected fuel quantity and timing.

5 liter 4-cylinder GH5E normally aspirated diesel with super high pressure CRDi fuel injection system

The compact MKE and mid-sized LKE types are powered by a 5L 4-cylinder GH5E diesel engine while the big PKE retains an 8L powerplant, the 6-cylinder GH8E, with both engines being Euro 4 compliant and built rugged enough to have longer oil-change intervals. Those engine codes imply an evolution from the proven 8L 6-cylinder GH8 used on their existing Condor truck, the trailing “E” code on the smaller GH5E and the like-sized GH8E meant to signify fuel efficiency enhancements.

The advanced CRDi system delivers high torque, peaking early and lingering there on the contours of an exceptionally flat torque curve. Torque onset is rich and early enough to deliver an economy range from 900 to 1700rpm. Powerbands are improved tangibly enough that the Croner’s compact MKE type uses the GH5E tuned to 180hp unlike lighter counterpart Condor variants which have a bigger GH8 putting out 210hp. For the bigger mid-sized LKE type, the 4-cylinder GH5E is tuned to 210 and 240hp, numbers rivalling the 215 and 245hp on the old Condor’s 6-cylinder GH8.

Market influences

While the Croner is not meant for mature markets, it seems to also raise the bar somewhat, bringing features that meet the expectations of customers from those parts as well as from their biggest and most advanced growth markets. You’d see this in the air brakes actuators for each of the rear wheels, left and right, to deliver dedicated pneumatics to either side. Engine braking is also complimented with exhaust braking, a feature more common to heavy-duty trucks where exhaust valves are constricted to offer greater resistance to reciprocating pistons in idled engines kept in low gear.

At the Croner launch on March 1, left to right: Kamlarp Sirikittiwatn, President of UD Trucks Thailand; Jacques Michel, President of Volvo Group Trucks Asia and JVs Sales; Yoshihiro Murakami, President of UD Trucks; Håkan Karlsson, President of Volvo Group Trucks Asia and JVs; Nobuhiko Kishi, Senior Vice President of UD Trucks Brand and Product

The 6- and 9-speed manual transmissions offered on the Croner have clutch plates that are said to be the biggest in their class, making these feature better grip and durability. For high operating temperatures such as those in bumper-to-bumper equatorial traffic jams, clutches of Cerametallic material are offered as options.

Automatic gearbox option from Allison Transmissions

While automatic transmission options were made available on all variants to meet the needs of the South African market, their biggest growth market right now where there’s an emerging shortage of drivers for long haul jobs, UD Trucks went full tilt with the feature and sourced the gearboxes from industry leader Allison Transmissions.

The Croner’s AT gearboxes offer Allison’s advanced Continuous Power Technology where a hydraulic torque converter with high stall speed is used only on launch, potentially doubling torque with hydraulic slippage against the 1st gear, but then is in effect bypassed as the 6-speed gearbox shifts up into 2nd gear and then onwards. Taking over from the fluid coupling of the torque converter, there are five clutches in the transmission, a clutch for each of the gears except for 1st, where pairs on adjacent gears simultaneously grab onto or release from the engine’s torque to execute seamless sequential gear shifts. In essence, you have the equivalent of a industrial grade dual clutch transmission delivering continuous push or engine braking with an over-engineered setup where each gear in play has its own dedicated clutch.

Author test drives a Croner MKE at the March 1 launch

For the ability to adjust ride stiffness on demand (freeing operators from having to switch from durable steel- to flexible nylon-belted tires to soften the ride, for example), the Croner offers an adjustable air suspension system in the rear. The function of the air suspension setup is to soften up the ride when needed, to dampen road shocks in varying degrees to insulate fragile cargo.

Down the road

On all Croner variants, there’s the option for telematics that can receive and display remotely commanded travel routes, track motion on or off those routes, and map all these against the control inputs of truck drivers who are made to log into the system and can then be critiqued and coached by it. Data communications with home base can happen realtime over 2g or 3g cellular networks, or buffered for burst transmission later on when intermittent or low quality carrier signals clear up enough for digital exchanges.

Units arrayed for test drive at Croner launch last March 1

UD Trucks director for aftersales and soft products Samuel Artus says that in South Africa similar telematics on their other models were instrumental in recovering nine stolen trucks, this because perpetrators could not disable the factory-installed telematics equipment, equipment that, in a sense, are fleet trucks’ equivalents to airliner black boxes. So, while the telematics remain tools for fleet management, mainly, UD trucks has firsthand experience of how these may be used for security and they don’t discount the possibility of using the equipment’s telemetry to effect more deliberate protection of both vehicle and cargo in the future. Not yet in existence, still on a notional drawing board, there are further enhancements to the suite that could deter criminal elements from their usual M.O. of threatening or enticing drivers into allowing or abetting theft of their payload.

When it was officially launched last March 1 the Croner was already on the production floor at UD Trucks’ manufacturing facility in Samut Prakan near Bangkok which has a capacity of 10,000 units per year, per shift (they can double their output, running two shifts in a day). There, in a plant originally opened by Volvo in 1976, UD Trucks now produces medium-duty Croners beside heavy-duty Questers and even upscale Volvo haulers meant explicitly for export. Croner trucks are rolled out with bodies for numerous hauling and construction applications, or delivered as basic cab- chassis for delivery to body-builders kitted out to do further sizing and construction.

UD Trucks will announce prices for the Philippines when they bring the Croner to this market by the second half of the year.