Factory Visit — Mitsubishi Fuso, Portugal

Date: Friday, November 09, 2007

All Canters sold in the UK are assembled in a plant to the north of Lisbon and we've been to Portugal to see for ourselves just how it all comes together.

 

Mitsubishi Fuso is a bit of a dark horse in the UK. It markets just the one model, the Canter, and it is sold through selected Mercedes van and truck dealerships. Despite the Mitsubishi name 85 per cent of the company is owned by DaimlerChrysler with various Mitsubishi corporations retained the remainder.

DC took over the Fuso brand in 2001 from Volvo which had been the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation's strategic alliance partner in the bus and truck sector for a brief two years. Some readers may remember Canter being sold through Volvo Truck dealers.

History Lesson

Although it is a relatively unfamiliar brand name in the UK light commercial vehicle market Mitsubishi Fuso is no newbie.

The first vehicle to bear the Fuso name, a B46 bus, was built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Kobe Shipyard and Machinery Works and delivered to the Ministry of Railroads in 1932. The first Fuso truck appeared in 1946 and then it's a fast-forward to 1963 for its first foray into the light duty truck market with the two tonne cab-over T720, the first Canter.

The word Fuso derives from an ancient Chinese term for a sacred tree said to grow on the spot in the east where the sun rises and has been used to refer to Japan itself. The actual fuso tree is a Hibiscus that grows to about three metres and sprouts red and pale pink flowers.

Mitsubishi Fuso now has sales outlets in 160 countries and production volume of around 200,000 vehicles per annum — 120,000 of which are Canters — from plants in 10 countries, the European one being sited in Tramagal, about 150km north of the Portuguese capital.

Tramagal

The Mitsubishi Fuso Truck Europe — to give it its full title — production facility began its life a year after the first Canter appeared in Japan, but way back then its raison d'être was to build military trucks for the Portuguese army. The manufacturer was Berliet, the forerunner of what is now Renault Trucks.

Visit Tramagal and it immediately becomes obvious why the plant is situated where it is. A couple of kilometres down the road there's still a huge military base.

From 1974 to 1980 Tramagal fell out of favour and production of various low-run vehicles was sporadic, but in 1980 the Japanese entered the picture and it became the hub of Mitsubishi Motors Portugal. It was responsible for producing all of Mitsubishi's commercial vehicles for the home market; Canter, Fuso trucks, L200 pick-ups, L300 panel vans and the Pajero (Shogun).

It was the master of diversity until 1996 when it became the sole facility for Canter production for Europe, following the closure of plants in Holland and Eire.

Assembly

Tramagal is an assembly plant, much along the lines of Daf's Leyland facility in the North West of England. It covers an area of 144,000m2 (35.6 acres), 34,000m2 of which is covered.

Chassis, engines and pre-pressed panels for the cabs are shipped in from Japan with the remaining, roughly, 50 per cent of the vehicles is sourced locally; quite naturally Portugal and Spain are the main suppliers. In the region of 1,000 parts come from these two countries.

Due to the type of assembly undertaken at Tramagal there really is no need for robots. A quick walk around the plant shows that the Canter really can claim to be hand-built.

Some 450 employees are drawn from the local communities and between them they will have turned out in the region of 10,485 Canters in 2007 running one shift. The potential output capacity per annum from one shift is 15,000, rising to 29,000 if a two-shift rotation was implemented, so there is plenty of breathing space for expansion.

Once the finished chassis cabs — single and double — have undergone the end-of-line inspections and the transmissions have proved themselves on the rolling road they are shipped by transporter and boat to 23 European countries. Roughly 45 per cent go by road.

One area that's being looked at to make use of the extra production potential is a one-stop-shop facility. There is no reason why at least a couple of standard body conversions couldn't be fitted as part of the chassis' progress down the line; a box body and dropside, for example. Watch this space.

UK Canter

Up for grabs at gross vehicle weights of 3.5 (3C13), 6.5 (6C14) and 7.5 tonne (7C14) it's on offer as either a chassis or chassis crew cab (D). The 3C13 gets a 125hp 3.0-litre diesel (5-speed) while the other two take a 143hp 3.9-litre which takes a six-speed transmission.

Opt for 3C13 and there's a choice of four wheelbases; 2,500mm, 2,950mm, 3,300mm and 3,850mm, with the crew cab on offer with a 3,350mm wheelbase. Canter 6C14 customers can opt for either a 3,350mm or a 3,850mm wheelbase with the latter produced as a crew cab too.

Move up to 7.5t and the wheelbase choice is 2,750mm, 3,350mm, 3,850mm, 4,200mm and 4,470mm. The crew cab can be ordered at either 3,850mm or 4,500mm.

Body/payload allowances are good; as high as 4,890kg at 7.5t, 3,935kg at 6.5t and at 3.5t they go up to 1,525kg.

All Canters come with a three-year/unlimited mileage warranty in the UK.

VERDICT

Tramagal was a pleasant surprise. There is masses of natural light entering the facility, noise levels are more than acceptable and it just goes to show that there is still a place for the hand-built approach in this techno age. 



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