Japan's truck makers delivering relief to weary drivers
Trucks with features to ease labor shortage are coming
YUKI HANAI, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Japanese truck companies are busy rolling out new models they say will help resolve the labor crunch currently afflicting the industry.
Hino Motors unveiled its first fully redesigned Ranger midsize truck in 16 years on Wednesday at an event in Saitama. The heavy-duty Profia received its first full makeover in 14 years and will be available for purchase later this year.
"Because of the shortage of drivers, demand for features that boost safety and make up for the lack of skills is mounting," President Yasuhiko Ichihashi said.
Hino sought to answer that demand by focusing on improving the operating performances of trucks. The new models come equipped with a communication system allowing remote monitoring of vehicle conditions in real time. Sensors inside the trucks relay data to truck dealers, who then give a heads up on when it's time for maintenance.
This setup "will maximize [trucks'] operating times and hold down repair costs," said Executive Vice President Kenji Suzuki. Fewer trips to the garage for repairs will also lighten the load on drivers.
Rival Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus has teamed up with UD Trucks to develop driver-friendly rigs. Their trucks featuring automatic transmissions are expected to help female and older drivers not used to driving stick, as well as boost fuel economy.
Mitsubishi Fuso will roll out its new trucks as soon as next month. "The new vehicles' features all connect to automated driving," said Hironobu Ando, the head of vehicle testing at the automaker.
Resolving the shortage of truck drivers hinges on attracting females and seniors. "Ease of driving will become an important trend," predicts Hino's Ichihashi.
Although demand for cars has been waning in Japan, truck sales are recovering due to the demands created by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and online retailing. Unit sales of trucks capable of carrying at least four tons rose 11.2% in fiscal 2016 to 98,106, the seventh straight year of expansion.
However, the head of a major truck dealership in the Tokyo area said that "it's difficult to foresee growth after the Olympics. "A scramble for existing customers will ensue," the official said.