The year was 1964 and a band named The Beatles made their first visit to Australia to screaming crowds. The arrival of the Mercedes-Benz L 911 and L 1413 in the same year did not quite attract the same kind of pandemonium as John, Paul, George and Ringo but these trucks did represent the start of a new chapter for heavy-duty transport in Australia and New Zealand.
A year later, Mercedes-Benz launched a truck that did became a genuine superstar in this part of the world, the LS 1418. This machine delivered the perfect mix of power and reliability, but it was the class-leading fuel efficiency that made this a truly iconic model.
It is no exaggeration to state that several local transport companies were built on the back of the Mercedes-Benz 1418. Larger The 1418 was followed by a series of larger flat-nosed models that showed enough promise for Mercedes-Benz to build an assembly line to take over local production starting in 1978.
The amazing go-anywhere Unimog enhanced the Mercedes-Benz presence in Australia when it started a critical role in the Australia Army that lasted for almost 40 years, while Mercedes-Benz buses were a common sight on local roads.
Various advanced heavy truck models followed, including the first in the market with anti-skid brakes, before the first-generation Actros touched down locally in 1998.
The new Actros introduced a range of clever innovations, including a lightweight frame, electronic brakes, a CAN bus electrical system, a three-pedal transmission with pre-selected synchromesh and V6 and V8 engines delivering impressive fuel economy and performance.
A second-generation Actros arrived in 2007 and was the first truck in Australia and New Zealand with the revolutionary Active Brake Assist, which used radar to detect a moving object in front of the truck and automatically hit the brakes.
In October 2016, Mercedes-Benz was finally ready to launch a new Mercedes-Benz truck range after an 18-month local evaluation program involving 35 customers, 20 trucks and well over 1 million kilometres in Australia and New Zealand.
It was an immediate success and Mercedes-Benz had delivered the right truck at the right time with the power, efficiency and safety that its customers had been waiting for.
The high-performance 13-litre 530hp 2653 is one of the most popular models thanks to its remarkable fuel economy, while the 16-litre engine, which cranked out up to 630hp, has also won a lot of friends.
Mercedes-Benz introduced the new truck with Euro 6 across the entire range, not just specific models, and operators found the new truck not only delivered fuel economy savings over the previous model, but also used less AdBlue fluid.
The fifth-generation Actros was introduced in 2020, bringing further innovations such as the optional MirrorCam, which sees cameras replace large traditional mirrors, the latest active safety systems and the first SAE Level 2 autonomous driving system that actually helps the truck to steer itself.
Freightliner’s Australian story began the same year the Berlin Wall fell and the first GPS satellite was launched in to space – 1989.
That was when the Melbourne-assembled FLC 112 first hit local roads with a tough steel cab, Cummins NT engines and Roadranger gearboxes.
Despite the challenges of parts shortages and the recession we apparently ‘had to have,’ the heavy duty machine picked up many loyal customers who used them for applications as varied at log carting and fuel hauling.
The fact that you still see FLCs plying their trade across Australia is a testament to just how durable they were. As time went on, Freightliner added more options, including CAT 3406 and Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines and a range of different suspension options.
Anti-skid brakes were also added to the FLC early in the 1990s, which gave it safety leadership when it came to American conventionals before the take up of ABS spread as it became compulsory for B-double combinations.
The story was slightly different in New Zealand where American-made Freightliners were privately imported throughout the 1980s. In 1994, Freightliner officially launched the FLD 120 in New Zealand, offering either CAT or Detroit Diesel engines. The bonneted trucks, which featured light aluminium cabs that brought tare weight advantages, were converted to right-hand drive by a third party in Rotorua.
Two years later, Freightliner introduced the truck that really put it on the map in New Zealand, the cab-over FLB. It was much loved by operators. A Freightliner dealer converted the trucks from left to right-hand drive and even added an extra drive axle to make them 8x4s, which suited local road laws.
The year 1999 brought a new Century Class bonneted truck to Australia and New Zealand, while a new cab-over model called the Argosy landed in both countries. The Columbia bonneted model was next, arriving in 2004 and it soon became a favourite vocational model, especially as an agitator.
A new chapter began in 2012 with the arrival of the brawny Coronado 122 that featured a bold design and DD15 engine. It was followed by the Coronado 114 with its set-forward front axle.
The trucks served Australia and New Zealand well until the arrival of the Cascadia in 2019 after an extensive local testing program.
The best-selling truck in the United States introduced advanced active safety features as standard, as well as a driver’s airbag, features that had previously been limited to European cab-over models.
The new 13-litre 116 and 16-litre 126 Cascadia models are proving popular with customers and drivers in Australia and New Zealand thanks to remarkable efficiency, comfort and low running costs.
Fuso’s Australian story started in 1971, when a ship docked carrying an unknown truck called the Canter.
It would go on to become the longest serving nameplate in the Australian commercial vehicle history and is still one of the best-selling trucks more than 50 years after its local introduction.
Japanese trucks were a hard sell back in those days, so the first generations of Australian Canters were sold with a Dodge badge. The first Canter was rated at 3.5 tonne and had a 95bhp petrol engine.
It was basic, but soon established a reputation as a robust truck. Later that decade, the Dodge badge was swapped for one that read Mitsubishi.
Larger Fuso models, which would later be known as Fighter and Heavy/Shogun, also started to make their mark in Australia in the 1970s.
Then the Canter starred in an ad that featured three ‘Japanese Sumos’ climbing into a Canter truck, before one declared that it was “Not so squeezy!”
The advertisement had a huge impact and Canter became a household name, along with the term Sumo’s comment.
Canter’s growth continued in 1983 when the very first Built Ready Fuso arrived, a Canter Tipper that would become a key model.
Powerful new engines in 1986 won the Canter a lot of new fans and in 1989 a rugged 4x4 Canter was introduced with good ground clearance and it soon became a favourite with fire services around Australia.
The TF Canter arrived in Australia in 2011 and was substantially different to the previous model.
Engineers introduced a new 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that was light and delivered payload benefits as a result.
A five-speed manual was available, as was a clever new six-speed Automated Manual Transmission called Duonic known for its super-fast shifts.
The next big Fuso milestone came in 2019, when the all-new Shogun heavy-duty truck was launched in Australia with a new 11-litre engine and a fresh interior. The 7.7-litre Shogun 360 was added to the range soon after, while the mighty 13-litre Shogun 510 arrived in 2021, setting a new benchmark for Japanese trucks with a massive 510hp on tap.
Fuso lead the market with the roll out of active safety technology starting with the Shogun, as well as the Fighter Euro 6 and Canter. The advanced safety tech was also a key advantage of the new Rosa light bus that set the bar for safety and comfort when it arrived in 2020.
In another example of leadership, Fuso launched the first Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) electric truck in Australia with the zero emission eCanter in 2021.
This pioneering model was soon working for some of the country’s most recognisable operations such as Bunnings, Tooheys, Coles, Centurion, Australia Post, Linfox, Goldstar and Team Global Express and points to an exciting zero emission future for road transport.