When reliability is king
In the realm of big trucks, reliability is king.
When your business, your livelihood, and your reputation are on the line, you need to know that you can count on your team and your machines to get the job done. Which is why any business needs good, reliable forms of transportation.
If you're transporting personnel, you know that they need to be able to make it to a job site. If your business is in the field of retail delivery, you know that customers are expecting their products on time. If you're in the transport logistics industry, your trucks need to get to their destinations on time because otherwise, you can end up delaying ships for export or stalling local factories that need the parts in your custody.
No business-minded person would want to gamble on a truck brand with many question marks, or even just a few unknown factors. You want a sure thing. And that's where Fuso comes in.
For a while now, we've been fortunate enough to have been granted access to the entire Fuso Philippines line-up. Actually, they pretty much toss us the keys to whichever truck we want, no matter how small or big. We drove the new Fuso Canter, a vehicle meant to move and grow SMEs. We drove the Indian-made Fuso FJ and played around with the up-down mechanism of the Fruehauf wing van.
This time we wanted something even bigger: we wanted a tractor-trailer. And that's why we ended up behind the wheel of the Fuso Super Great. Actually, they tossed us the keys to two of them.
The Super Great comes to us from Japan, which is why it's named that way. Yes, this is an example of the unusual JDM naming convention, which is quite common for Japanese truck manufacturers. Two other examples include Nissan Diesel's truck called Big Thumb and Hino Super Dolphin Profia tractor head. Now it doesn't seem so unusual, especially since the model that the Super Great replaced was the Fuso The Great. And you thought the LaFerrari had an unusual name.
In some markets, the Super Great is marketed as either the FP or FV lines, but for the Philippines, Fuso opted for both: which is why we have the Super Great FP-R and the larger Super Great FV-R. Both models are tractor heads intended to pull trailers carrying whatever you need it to. Some use these for pulling containers on a trailer, others pull trailers with construction materials (i.e. huge reinforced concrete sewer pipes or I-beams), some pull tracked bulldozers on a trailer. One customer even pulls tanks using the Super Great; that would be the Japanese army Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) that operate olive drab Super Greats as battle tank transporters, missile transports, basically anything that needs pulling.
In terms of design, there's not really much to comment on other than the Super Great really looks the part. It doesn't look particularly aerodynamic despite a few creases and curves here and there because this is really a cab-forward truck, not a conventional one with a hood. These tractor heads are really locomotive units, meaning it's all about the engine in which the cab sits on top of.
The other important bit is the chassis. And, given the name, Fuso chose to call the chassis as the Fuso Super Frame Structure. No surprises there. The basic frame has stayed largely the same over the last 37 years according to the guys at Fuso but has been improved as technology and metallurgy progressed. The current model is promised to be robust and offers strength to withstand the many shocks and vibrations it will have to endure as a working heavy-duty truck. And to mate with any trailer, the Super Great is fitted locally with a Jost fifth-wheel; it's that tilted plate on the back that acts as a coupler for the trailer.
The FP-R 4x2 is the smaller of the two models we have on hand. It's colloquially known as a 6 wheeler even though there are really only 4 wheels; it just has 6 tires, with the two rear drive wheels each having two tires. The FV-R is a 10-wheeler truck tractor head with a 6x4 drivetrain, meaning the four rear drive wheels each have two tires. The driver can lock the rear wheels to drive together in the FV-R much in the same way as a locking diff on a 4x4; the truck will just have a harder time turning.
But walking around the two trucks, you'll quickly realize there are some oddities about the Super Greats, chief of which is the presence of a different emblem: Mercedes-Benz. You'll see it on the AdBlue emissions control tank, on the fuel filter, and many other bits and pieces, including the keys.
Those familiar with the history of Fuso will know why, and that's because, at one point in history, Mitsubishi Motors and Daimler were sort of married. Fuso, on the other hand, was part of Mitsubishi Motors. But like with some marriages, times got tough, prompting a divorce between the Japanese and German companies a while back. And, unusually, it was Daimler that came away with the child: Fuso.
Yes, you may see the Mitsubishi logo all over the Super Great, but Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC) is now part of Daimler since the German conglomerate owns 89.29% of the company. That's also why you'll see a lot of parts of German origin on the Japanese-made Super Great, yet still retains the logo of Mitsubishi. This is a contrast to the Fuso FJ wing van I drove before which didn't have a Mitsubishi logo; the reason is that the FJ is built in India. Only Japanese-made Fuso trucks from Fuso factories will have the diamond star.
The German connection, however, doesn't end with small parts and accessories. Even the engine is from Mercedes: the 12-liter OM457 straight-six turbodiesel engine. It's rated for Euro-5 emissions (thanks to the AdBlue emissions control system) and comes in two states of tune, depending on the Super Great variant. In the FP-R, this engine makes 401 PS at 1900 rpm and 2000 Newton meters of torque at 1100 rpm. In the larger FV-R, the same engine produces 455 PS and 2200 Nm of torque.
Climbing up to the Super Great's tall cab isn't what we would call easy, but it's not exceptionally hard either. You just have to position your feet and remember to grab the handles firmly to pull yourself up. The first thing you'll notice once you're up in the driver's seat is, well, the height of it all. Your eyes will be about 10 feet above the road, and that in itself makes a huge difference in terms of perception. The view up here is very daunting, but commanding; you can see very well out the windows, and there are mirrors and auxiliary convex mirrors to help you along.
I did, however, notice that there were two features missing. The first is the absence of a secondary glass panel on the driver door that would allow a driver to see down; something very useful if you have to navigate roads with a lot of motorcycles or bikes. The convex mirrors do make up for it, but some Fuso Super Great versions do have that window, so I just found it odd that this one didn't come with such a feature. The other is the absence of a central rearview mirror; that makes sense because, well, the trailer would block it anyway.
Scanning around the cabin, you'll also realize that this is a pretty complex piece of machinery. The steering wheel is, of course, massive and nearly horizontal. The gauge cluster is clean and modern and includes a multi-info display, a green powerband indicator, AdBlue meter, and more. But perhaps what's most daunting is the presence of so many buttons and other auxiliary (but critical) controls.
There are switches that activate the various kinds of illumination, including a retrofitted toggle for the rear work lights. You have a headlamp leveling knob, a panel to activate cruise control (yes, this has it), a switch for the anti-slip regulation system, a switch to lock the rear wheels, a knob to adjust the idle speed, and even switches that adjust the gear the Super Great will start with. It even has a switch to select high and low range for reverse, both of which depend on the load.
There's also what I thought was a CD changer on the dashboard, but as it turns out it was an analog tachograph; basically an old-school black box that record driving data onto a paper “CD” so the vehicle owner knows how well (or poorly) the truck is being driven. Yes, it can be overwhelming if you're not so well versed, which is why training and proper licensing are very important.
One thing that isn't complicated is the fact that this doesn't have a traditional manual gearbox: this Super Great is the first Japanese truck in the Philippine market to come with an automatic. Actually, that's a bit of a misnomer: the gearbox on the Super Great is a manual, but it shifts automatically.
This Super Great comes with an automated manual transmission or AMT. Like the engine, it's from Mercedes-Benz, and it has 12 speeds. Anyone who has ever driven a heavy-duty truck will know they can have an almost absurd number of gears, and that's because while the diesel engine is very powerful and loaded with gobs of torque, the powerband is very short. So as you can imagine, having an automated manual gearbox is a godsend if you're a truck driver, as it reduces the mental and physical load by letting the machine shift so many gears all by itself.
Reducing the strain on the driver will also help with safer driving overall, and safety is important in something as big as the Super Great. It comes standard with anti-lock brakes (for greater control in emergency braking situations), hill start assist (prevents rolling backwards while stopped on an incline), and anti-slip regulation (for better control when trying to accelerate on slippery roads).
But of course, the backbone of vehicle safety is the brake system, and on trucks this big, it's almost always an air brake. There's a general misunderstanding that air brake systems on trucks are unsafe, given the severity of accidents involving trucks that supposedly “lost” their brakes. But let me tell you now that air brake systems are extremely powerful and very safe, and the reason is that the operating principle is reversed.
In a normal hydraulic automotive brake system, when the driver steps on the brake pedal, it exerts pressure using the fluid to force the pads to grab rotors or shoes to stop. In a truck air brake system, when the driver steps on the brake pedal, air pressure is actually released, not increased. The brake itself is activated by a wedge with a heavy-duty spring, and it's held back by air pressure when the vehicle is running. When the driver steps on the brake, he/she is in fact releasing air pressure to allow the wedge and spring to push the brake shoes and stop the vehicle.
It's a very powerful braking system, and it has a failsafe: if at any time the air system is compromised (i.e. burst tank or broken line), the natural state is for the truck to stop. The ones you see crashing on social media are likely to be very poorly-maintained or low-quality trucks with busted mechanisms (i.e. broken springs, destroyed drums, etc). Those are the ones populating Social Media's Greatest Hits videos.
We can talk about this for a while, but we thought we'd fire up the FV-R tractor head and get going. The automated manual should be in N (neutral, of course) for this and that's because there's no P setting on the AMT lever. The engine fires up with a rather mild judder and fairly minimal noise; it is very much brand new. Drop down the air actuated parking brake system, put the truck in D, and we're rolling.
Power is right there from the get-go, as expected; max torque is developed at a very early 1100 rpm, and is way more than enough to get the 8205 kilogram Fuso FV-R moving effortlessly, and that's starting in sixth gear (with the starting gear selector set to +1). The gearbox, as expected, performs like any other AMT; you have to lift off the throttle a bit for smoother driving much like a manual, as the engine will rev in the gap of time the transmission shifts between gears. If you don't lift, it feels like you're “powershifting”, which isn't good for a truck like this.
Driving it around in a closed compound is surprisingly easy despite its 2.49-meter width. Maneuvering the tractor head around isn't a problem at all. The cab-forward style is different but very easy to get used to, and never did it feel like I was overwhelmed even if technically I'm still very much a newbie at this type of heavy-duty driving. And that was evidenced by how poorly I used the brakes at first, stopping too abruptly. Once I got the hang of it, the Super Great was performing, uh, great.
The Super Great is also very comfortable for such a big utilitarian truck. I do like the driver's seat with the air-suspension system; perfect for a vehicle that tends to bounce around a lot. The driver-centric nature is very cockpit-like, and it's good to have everything within easy reach. Mostly though, the airconditioning was a welcome treat, and there's even a bunk behind the seats to allow driver and his lieutenants to switch and rest on long drives.
In terms of capabilities, the Super Great FV-R is rated operate with a gross combination weight of 55 metric tons, which is 55,000 kilograms. That GCW rating is meant to include the weight of the tractor head, the trailer, as well as the payload or cargo. The Super Great FP-R is rated for a little less, able to handle a GCW of 45 metric tons or 45,000 kilograms.
One thing you'll notice is that we're not driving it with a trailer which is the whole purpose of the Super Great tractor head. Actually the original plan for this review was to drive it with a trailer in a larger closed course because we wanted to really get a feel for driving a full-on semi-trailer. Basically, it's a bucket list item. But then the ECQ happened, and that location became unavailable. So we had to make do with just the tractor head.
But there is no reason to doubt the capabilities of the Fuso Super Great, which is why it's a major mainstay in port areas abroad, especially in Japan. Many truckers in Japan actually adorn their Super Greats the same way that local PUV drivers decorate their jeepneys. The Japanese even have a word for it: Dekotora which is short for dekoreshion torakku, or decoration truck. Neat, eh?
Overall, the Super Great is just as we expected it to be. A high-quality tractor head built for big business, and with many features that set it apart from its peers. The model has proven itself for nearly 4 decades, and it's only going to get even better as it marries the strengths, technologies, and reputations of both Fuso as well as Mercedes-Benz. More importantly, it is the ease of service. For simple maintenance like fluids and the like, there's an access panel in front. For more complex engine servicing, the cab tilting system is motorized and is far superior to the jack system in the FJ we drove before. And this vehicle can also be serviced nationwide at Fuso and Mitsubishi dealerships.
Fuso Philippines generally does not release the SRP of the Super Great because these vehicles are really meant for corporate customers, and they never buy at SRP. Each client's needs are different both in features and fleet size, and that means prices can change dramatically depending on the configuration and order. But if you really want to know how much the Super Great is, you can always visit any Mitsubishi or Fuso dealership nationwide and ask how much and how well this prime mover of the economy can reliably serve your needs and your business.