UP until recently, a Fuso salesmen's idea of Christmas was a customer interested in Fuso's heavy-duty prime mover.
As the Canter and Fighter models gained new styling and features, the heavy-duty model just seemed to get older, looking more like it belonged on a used truck lot and slipping further behind its Japanese rivals.
The new FV Fuso released at the Tokyo Motor Show has arrived and we drove the truck on a day's run from Adelaide to an agricultural field day in Griffith recently, towing Fuso's promotional trailer.
The FV has inherited some critical features from the global network of the Daimler Group.
From almost any angle, the Mercedes-Benz family likeness can be recognised. The cab is high and wide, smoothly sculptured on the outside, and roomy on the inside. The entire dashboard has been replaced, controls grouped together and placed with easy reach, and the popular transom window from the Fighter has been added to the passenger's door.
So it looks the part, but how does it drive?
The first leg was in peak-hour Adelaide traffic. The new 12-litre engine is derived from the new global Mercedes-Benz 6-cylinder platform and is an SCR emissions system. That means it needs AdBlue to finish off the treatment of the exhaust gases.
The AdBlue tank is slung off the right-hand side of the chassis, right next to a cluttered bunch of air tanks that look like they've been added as an afterthought.
On the opposite side is the exhaust box next to a single fuel tank. It would be a major step forward if the engineers located the air tanks inboard and provided at least the option of doubling fuel capacity. As it was, we needed to refuel before we reached Griffith to make sure we kept a decent safety margin in the tank.
The engine produces 455hp at 1900rpm, with 2200Nm of torque at 1100rpm. But if you want to keep the engine at maximum torque you'll be keeping it in a fairly narrow band, as the torque falls off rapidly at 1500rpm.
Handling that torque is the job of the Mercedes-Benz Inomat-II AMT 12-speed gearbox, with a manual shift option and two selectable shift modes. After driving the truck through traffic, up steep hills and on the open road, I was convinced the transmission is the jewel in the crown of the FV.
Even on slight inclines, it started in third, then skipped gears as it worked up to 12th as soon as possible, generally getting there as the rig passed 60kmh. If you engage power mode, it will still skip shift but will rev out to nearly 2000rpm in the intermediate gears.
It made driving the big FV a breeze and I think will help prospective owners, particularly fleets feel confident that any driver can be successful behind the wheel.
Clearly the engine and gearbox are a perfect match.
Driving the FV is not hard work. I was comfortable and relaxed after a full five hours in the suspension seat and the wide, deep windscreen and excellent mirror set meant I had plenty of vision for manoeuvring in traffic or taking in the seemingly endless plains approaching the Riverina.
Fuso reckons the new FV brings them into the B-double arena, but I think it'll only be the 19-metre metro market as anything bigger for long distances will be real stretch.
But for local distribution or similar, Fuso now has a true competitor for at least its Japanese cousins.
It doesn't quite match the UD GW470, but it's very close.