The first new generation Scania trucks outside of Europe are now being tested on the roads of Japan, and for Takashi Tamura, it’s a dream come true to be one of the drivers.
Tamura is 36 years old and comes from the Chiba prefecture east of Tokyo. He has spent all of his career so far working as a truck driver. Like most Japanese employees he’s not someone who likes to change jobs
“I’ve been loyal to Okawa Unyu since the day I started work 16 years ago. It’s a great transport company that takes care of its drivers. Just see how they rewarded me with this magnificent new truck, the first new generation Scania in Japan!”
Okawa Unyu is a medium-sized Japanese transport company with more than 1000 tractors and trailers. While most Japanese hauliers still build their businesses on smaller and cheaper domestic vehicles, Okawa Unyu is more innovative when it comes to ordering new vehicles. In recent years the company has tried some bigger Scania trucks and when the new generation was previewed at Tokyo Motor Show in October, Okawa Unyu asked to buy and test it, even though the official Japanese launch will not be until later in 2018.
The Scania driver experience
During the company’s daily operations, technicians from Scania Japan follow it as part of an informal field test, to get a better understanding of how the new truck generation performs in Japan’s particular infrastructure, topography and climate. But most of all, the technicians want to find out how Takashi Tamura experiences the truck as a driver.
“This is extremely important information for the approval process for our new generation trucks,” says Mikael Lindner, Managing Director of Scania Japan. “When launching new products here in Japan, this can be a long and complicated process.”
Of course, there’s also a marketing aspect in the early sale of these field-test trucks, as they are being driven all over Japan and attracting a lot of attention. Japanese social media is buzzing about the imported, camouflage-patterned trucks.
Dense urban environments
And Takashi Tamura enjoys being at the centre of all this buzz. One early morning he wakes up in his new truck in a parking lot at the Ichihara service area, south-east of Tokyo. It’s one of many similar, often giant, facilities that play a major role in Japanese truck drivers’ working lives.
Tamura’s life as a trucker is somewhat different to colleagues in other markets around the world. Japan is an archipelago of nearly 7,000 islands. Most of the islands are mountainous; many are volcanic, and only about four percent of the land on the islands is inhabited. In this small area of inhabited land 127 million people are squeezed together, and Tamura almost always operates in dense urban environments. Houses, stores, factories and offices are crammed together with little regard for zoning requirements. Streets, some little more than alleyways, dart off in every direction from the two and four-lane traffic arteries.
Mount Fuji rest-stop
At a nearby factory Tamura loads 26.5 tonnes of glass intended for the construction and automotive industries. Loading and transport of such fragile goods is a delicate job, which takes more time than most other transport operations.
To save time the driver heads for the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line: 14 kilometres of bridges and tunnels, instead of driving the 100-kilometre long route along the shores of Tokyo Bay, which also involves going through the largest metropolitan area in the world. The Aqua Line shortcut means Tamura can cut his overall travelling time by 75 minutes.
In the afternoon, he stops at a service station near Mount Fuji and rests. Tamura says he loves the area, with its lush forest, clean, high air and the sacred mountain towering over the landscape.
“Sometimes I sleep here until midnight, and then continue towards Osaka in the south-west. At that time, there is less traffic and it’s cheaper to drive the highway. That way I arrive around six in the morning.”
Truck drivers are highly regarded in Japan because of the rigorous training and testing process the drivers have to go through. It’s hard not to notice the pride Tamura feels for his occupation. Like many of his colleagues he often wears white gloves as a symbol of his professionalism.
“A wonderful vehicle”
“It´s a cool job, for sure,” says Tamura.
“When I was a kid, I watched the Japanese movie called “Truck Yaro (Truck Men)”, a story about two truck drivers, and I liked the main characters. I knew Okawa Unyu as the company was near to the city where I grew up. It owned a variety of trucks, including the imported trucks which I wanted to drive, so I knocked on the office door.”
These days Tamura prefers driving a European brand to the Japanese ones.
“A truck like this new Scania is so much more comfortable and stylish, both on the outside and inside the cab. It has more power and torque than any domestic brands, and the Opticruise is just awesome. I cannot give a final opinion until I have driven the truck for a longer distance, but so far I think this is a wonderful vehicle!”