Generally speaking, Japanese trucks are perfectly suited for Aussie climate, which ranges from snowy mountains in Victoria to deserts in the Outback. This might be because Japan’s trucks are intended for the global market, so they’re far more versatile. Plus with Japan being so close, it’s easy to get high quality aftermarket truck spares. Some companies even have showrooms and truck assembly factories within Australia.
At this year’s Good Design Awards, UD took top position with the curvy Quon, their newest truck. They credited their win to a strong emphasis on driver comfort. It’s a particularly touchy subject at the moment, because the volume of truckers around the world is shrinking. In some ways, it’s the best job in the world, because you get to travel all over the country, sometimes even the world. You can meet new people and see new places.
Well, that’s the theory. The reality is … driving is a ‘desk job with a view’. And the view isn’t all that, because drivers’ eyes stay on the road. That hunk of metal they’re tugging requires absolute focus, so truckers are often oblivious to the scenery around them. Plus, with routes that stretch thousands of kilometres across the country, the view isn’t always as enticing as you’d think. Lots of times, there’s nothing to see but stretches of barren land.
Mobile but still
Drivers have to bear this for hours, with nobody to talk to, no chance to stretch their limbs, and no possibility of even shifting in their chair. They’re sometimes on the road for months at a time, which affects their family life. And when they finally get to encounter other humans, it’s frequently late at night, at truck stops where everyone is as drained as they are, so there’s not much incentive to mingle all explore. They just want to lie down and sleep.
It seems truckers are also getting older. There’s a broad demographic of empty nesters who can’t afford to retire, and trucking seems like a viable ‘second chapter’. Making the driving experience more pleasant keeps drivers happier, and might even lure back some of the experienced experts that have burned out. UD started their Quon design with this in mind. They have philosophy of design that they call the Hexagon, and its six points are distinctive, caring, smart, harmonised, and supportive.
UD wants the outside of their vehicles to reflect the inside, and they want to blend energy and zen in a harmonious manner. Toshio Shiratori spearheaded the project. He’s the Director for Product Design at UD, and he wanted a truck that was tough and pretty. ‘We know the parts of our trucks that customers like,’ he said, ‘so we kept those and added more. Our focus was on aesthetics and functionality.’ Another key factor was driver distraction.
Texting and trucking
There’s been endless talk about the effect of mobile phones on drivers. The bulk of damage doesn’t even happen while talking on the phone or replying text messages. Most accidents happen in that split second when a driver glances at his phone to see who’s calling, or peers around the cabin to see where the phone is. That’s why one of the tweaks Shiratori made was to design two storage pockets within the driver’s sight, ideal for smartphones and electronics.
The New Quon interior is full of verve, character, and harmony. Careful thought went into everything from colour and texture and shape and position. The ESCOT was redesigned to make it more ergonomic, and the buttons, dials, and switches were re-arranged to better suit the driver’s natural flow. Truck controls are now clustered around the steering wheel so the driver can reach them without adjusting his position. The display screen was also shifted so he can see it without moving his read, and it was adjusted to reduce eye strain.
To account for older drivers, a handle was added to the driver cabin, so it’s easier to get in and out. Similarly, the floor of the truck was brought lower to accommodate drivers who aren’t limber enough to heave themselves into their seats. Lower floors also enhance the ground visibility factor. The President of UD Australia, Mark Strambi, pointed out that appealing trucks are a blessing, both for new drivers and old hands on the road.
He affirmed that their design decisions were informed by ‘driver comfort, smarter fuel efficiency and improved safety’. The customers are happy with the adjustments, and the Good Design Award judges were too. They were especially impressed by the functional interior, which they said would reduce the stress levels of drivers and simplify their work. The judges also liked the downward visibility of the new low-level floor, as well as safety features like the Driver Alert Support and Advanced Emergency Brake System.