Equestrian Sophie Dunkerley is something of an expert when it comes to horsepower and economy of movement, so she is delighted to be driving Europe’s first FUSO Canter Eco Hybrid horsebox.
Also believed to be the first diesel-electric truck of any make to be converted to carry horses, her new vehicle wins top marks from Sophie for the range of benefits it offers compared to the off-road car and trailer combination she was using previously.
“As well as being kinder to the environment and highly cost-effective to run, the new truck is far easier to drive, and especially to reverse and turn in tight spaces,” she said. “It is also significantly more spacious than its predecessor, having room for two horses and a living accommodation module.”
With state-of-the-art hybrid power and a smooth and efficient DUONIC® dual clutch automated transmission, meanwhile, her new 7.5-tonner is also delivering a welcome improvement in fuel economy – it is already returning an average of 22 mpg, around 20% better than the vehicle it has replaced.
Sophie competes at Advanced Medium level in the sport of dressage, which entails travelling to events across East Anglia from her base near Bury St Edmunds most weekends. Dressage has seen a sharp rise in profile in the last four years thanks to Team GB’s successes at the last two Olympics, but Sophie has been involved in this and other equestrian events for most of her life.
“I’ve been using a horsebox trailer for the past 18 years,” she said. “I always wanted something with more living accommodation but most of the small truck conversions I’ve seen have an inherent problem – by the time the heavy bodywork is built, there’s not very much payload left for a pair of horses, which can weigh around 500 kg each, along with their tack, feed, water, diesel and everything else that’s required.”
The conventional, diesel-engined 7.5-tonne Canter leads the market in terms of its body and payload allowance. Although the Eco-Hybrid variant is also fitted with an electric motor and batteries, these only add an extra 160 kg. This means while its ladder frame chassis offers all of the strength and durability for which the Canter is renowned, it also remains commendably light in weight.
Sophie’s Canter was supplied by Birmingham Mercedes-Benz Dealer Midlands Truck & Van – the German manufacturer’s franchised Network is additionally responsible for sales and support of the FUSO range. The chassis has a body-and-payload allowance of 5.0-tonnes, so that even with its spacious, fully-appointed body by specialist equine coachbuilder Equicruiser, of Alton, Hampshire, the vehicle can carry well over 2.5 tonnes, comfortably exceeding Sophie’s requirements.
“I’m really enjoying driving the Canter, and the horses seem to like it too,” added Sophie. “The fact that it’s so environmentally-friendly, and saving me money thanks to the improved mpg, is very welcome of course.
“It’s also great to be able to get back late on a Sunday and know that because the truck isn’t doubling as my everyday transport, which was the case with the 4×4 car I used previously, I don’t have to get it ready to use for my work commute on Monday morning.”
The first diesel-electric truck to make economic as well as environmental sense, the Canter Eco Hybrid is powered by a 110 kW (150hp) diesel engine which works in parallel with a state-of-the-art 40 kW (54hp) electric motor – this is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack which is covered by a 10-year, unlimited mileage warranty.
From stationary the vehicle uses electric power only, then switches to a combination of diesel and electric operation once a speed of around 6 mph has been reached. Depending on the power demand, the electric motor also supports the diesel at higher speeds; mode switching is seamless, requiring no input from the driver. To optimise fuel-saving an Idle Start-Stop system is fitted as standard.