Drifters favours Africa-friendly Hino

The ‘relevant technology for purpose’ principle employed by Hino in designing, engineering and building its range of 500-Series trucks has found favour with Drifters.

The Hino 1626 truck chassis cabs which form the basis of a fleet of 18 overland safari vehicles are proving Africa-friendly in terms of reliability, durability, ease of maintenance and repair when operating in remote regions in Africa.

Drifters operations director Steve Maidment says, “We are very satisfied with the performance of the Hinos in operations that are varied but can be very tough, particularly when storms ruin the gravel roads and rivers rise. Our overland vehicles, which each carry 16 tourists, are often more than 1 000km from the nearest dealer, so reliability is very important.’

Maidment says the Hino truck-based safari vehicles have now clocked up 3,6-million km, often under harsh conditions, and have been virtually trouble free except for a couple of broken spring blades and a differential spider gear breaking due to getting stuck and spinning the rear wheel.

“These trucks are built strong, with big wheel bearings and drive shafts. Many of the steering, suspension and transmission parts have grease nipples, adding to ease of maintenance and subsequent reliability. They certainly make my life easier!”

Drifters, which was established in 1983 with one well-used minibus, has grown significantly over the years and now has 30 full-time guides. A variety of different brands and vehicle types have been used for its touring operations in sub-Saharan Africa over the years.

The switch to Hino came in 2010 after a lengthy study and evaluation of potentially suitable vehicles available on the local market. There are now 18 of these Hino vehicles being used in operations that extend from five to 24 days, with the latter trip involving travelling from Cape Town to Johannesburg via Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Other countries on the Drifters schedule are Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania.

Tours operate on tight schedules and most of the tourists are from overseas (especially Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia) so the reliability of the transport is vital in meeting the timetable and providing outstanding customer service. The success of the Drifters business can be seen in the many tourists who return to South Africa to participate in subsequent Drifters tours after their first experience.

All the safari vehicle bodies are tailor-made by the company itself. Vehicles have to transport a full complement of camping equipment, such as tents, stretchers and chairs, as well as being equipped with a refrigerator, freezer, food storage area and a self-contained kitchen unit with cooking and washing up facilities.

The manufacturing facility is based in Muldersdrift, near Krugersdorp.  A number of bus and truck body builders were used in the early days to build safari vehicles, but the requirements are so specialised that it was decided to take manufacture of the vehicle bodies in house. This was a bold move that has proved very successful over many years.

The facility where the vehicles are built also houses the maintenance and repair workshop, as well as various storerooms and a facility for making and repairing tents. It has a staff complement of 15.

The frames of the safari vehicle body and several of the panels are made of stainless steel, which is corrosion resistant, while most body panels are made of glass fibre, which is light, strong and easy to repair.  Some of the bodies are eight to nine years old and showing no sign of corrosion. The vehicles themselves cover between 70 000 and 80 000 km a year. They are serviced at Hino Honeydew while under warranty and then maintained by Drifters at the Muldersdrift workshop.

Vehicles have dual fuel tanks, each with a capacity of 450 litres. There is a 400-litre water tank. Huge, panoramic windows which can be opened provide excellent views for occupants, who are seated on adjustable Isringhausen seats as used in many truck cabs.

Bodies can be removed from one truck chassis and bolted onto another one, which a big plus.

Drifters manages its own tyres, which often involves repairing punctures and other damage or scrapping tyres before the tread is worn down due to damage in off-road operations. The large wheels, with 10 studs, and the large tyres are other features of the Hino which make them well-suited to this overland touring operation.

Drifters operations director Steve Maidment demonstrates the fold-out kitchen