Oil and gas giant Shell will be bringing the prototype of the world’s first flat-pack truck to India from the UK for demonstrations. It can be built up quickly and is targeted at emerging markets.
The Ox, revealed in driving prototype form in 2016, was being financed through crowdfunding. The money was used to make modifications to the first version, including a new, more hard-wearing gearbox, powertrain tweaks, a more powerful cooling system, more durable steering components and a 200mm extension to the truck's wheelbase to make it perform better off-road.
Now, oil and gas giant Shell has helped to move the project forward by ordering a bespoke example to India, where it will demonstrate the vehicle's abilities – which include carrying payloads of up to 1,900kg or seating up to 13 people – with the intention of drawing in potential customers.
"The Ox to India demonstration will have the concept validated and discussed on the ground in a real-world setting. We know limited mobility in hard-to-reach communities in developing economies can restrict access to basic services and limit the effectiveness of efforts to improve quality of life," said Huibert Vigeveno, executive vice president of Shell Global Commercial.
The Ox was conceived as an extremely durable, all-terrain light truck specifically for remote parts of Africa and other developing areas, such as those in India.
The Ox is about the same length as the Ford Focus but can carry almost two tonnes — twice as much as any car-based pick-up truck. Its central-seat, cab-forward design leaves load space for eight 44-gallon drums, three standard pallets or 10 people on bench seats that can double as sand ladders (three more can sit in the front). The tailgate detaches to form a ramp, up which drums can be rolled or a loading crew can walk. The chassis is a steel ladder with bonded-in wooden panels to provide torsional rigidity.
The mechanicals, including the 99hp 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine and six-speed gearbox, are taken from the Ford Transit van. The all-coil, all-independent suspension uses simple, long-travel steel leading arms in front and trailing arms behind, and the suspension parts are identical side to side.
At first, the Ox was demonstrated with a simple front-wheel drive layout, which saves weight and complication, but four-wheel drive versions are possible. However, the Ox has better ground clearance and shorter overhangs than most pure off-roaders and early testing in rough and muddy terrain has returned such good results that the partners question the early need for four-wheel drive.
The truck's body parts — mostly flat panels in ultra-durable coated plywood — are also identical side to side, as are the seats and flat windscreen pieces. The entire cab section is designed to fit, before assembly, inside the chassis rails in such a way that an Ox doesn’t even need to be crated-up for shipping. Six Ox kits, complete with engines, fit into a standard 40ft container. A team of three can assemble one in less than 12 hours, needing no special tools.
Driving the Ox
The surprises start early. You’d expect extreme crudity in a flat-pack vehicle with no interior trim whatsoever, and you get it. But you also get surprising sophistication.
Sure, this isn’t the quietest vehicle you’ll ever ride in, but for strength, traction, stability and a flat and level ride — the things that matter — the Ox is really remarkably good, even when carrying a one-tonne test payload.
You sit very high and very close to the nose, which takes some getting used to, and there’s zero side support in the non-adjusting bench seat, but the steering is accurate, the gearbox feels familiar (although the first and second ratios should be closer) and that Transit motor packs plenty of torque.