TRATON-ator!

Monday, May 4, 2020

The New Generation MAN line-up released in Spain last month is way more than an evolution of the current offering. Not only is it MAN’s preparatory cyber-nest for a new world, it could also be the benchmark in terms of a megascale reformation.

We were all here for the global launch of MAN’s New Generation TG trucks. ‘Here’ was the Exhibition Centre in Bilbao, Northern Spain, chosen on account of its significance as a port and logistics hub, but also for what the city represents, having successfully reinvented itself from an industrial past into a hip and groovy 21st century destination. It was a great metaphor. From a distance, Bilbao probably looks the same as it always has, but get up close and things have changed, and changed a lot. Like the city, when the New Generation TGX appeared at the swanky portside launch function, for a split second it was a case of ‘WOW! Oh yeah, have they brought the right one?’ But then you go ‘Hmmm, yep that’s actually a bit different to be honest’. The closer you got to it the more the differences materialised and then when you opened the door and looked in it was a whole new world. But even that was just the start.


Photo: Everywhere you turned there are gold topaz MANs.


Photo: Now you can see where the Lion in your MAN is.

The truck project
From the outset of the truck project in April 2015, MAN’s mantra was ‘Simplifying Business’. “We asked, how can we simplify our customers’ business, and how can we design the best truck for drivers?” said MAN Truck and Bus CEO Joachim Drees at the launch. The answer to those questions lay both internally, with tactical decisions around the new truck’s technical DNA, and externally, via consultation with 300 customers and 700 drivers from 16 countries. That external consultation shows up too. Neat touches like switches in the driver’s door reachable from the ground that operate hazard lights, loading lights, door locks, and window open and close – uber practical and handy. We’ve all had to run back and haul ourselves into the cab to flick one of those switches. New trucks, like every other modern-day automobile and appliance, are a hugely malleable item when it comes to purchase. ‘You can have any colour you like as long as it’s one of these 3000’ is what your MAN salesman will tell you, and with the company’s new ‘configurator’, there are a potential 600,000-plus MANs on offer. In terms of roll-out, Drees said the old and new will remain in production alongside each other for about a year and half in order to get the new gig into all four corners. As for our timing? Penske New Zealand will have an announcement at some point we’re picking.


Photo: MAN Truck and Bus CEO Joachim Drees sets his pride of Lions free at the launch.


What’s new, what’s not – TGX
First things first, the Euro 6d engine and drive train from the previous model will carry over. Nothing’s going to change there until the Traton platform power trains arrive down the line a bit. Having said that, as you read in New Zealand Trucking magazine December 19/January 20 edition, there’s already sharing and caring going on within the group in the form of MAN-tuned Scania Opticruise transmissions going into some MAN product, and in the new trucks, HVAC units as well. Cab exterior-wise the ‘design language’ is all MAN. The TG cabs come in eight variants, the TGX in three (GX – highest, GM – high, GN – standard) and changes are largely cosmetic, with incremental improvements in aerodynamics.

With the future not even a canvas, let alone a blank one, prioritising the money in big OEMs is front and centre currently, and this MAN’s real secrets lay both inside the cab, and in the unseen world of microprocessors and looms. Dr Frederik Zohm, member of the board for research and development, summed it up in typical German simplicity: “Save money on the steel and put it into data.” That aside, MAN says the combination of aero tweaks and the Euro 6d engine add up to a quantifiable 8% fuel consumption improvement over the previous truck in Euro 6c trim. Bear in mind this is the global launch, so any such claim has to be taken in that context. The bulk of that consumption number is by far and away attributable to the 6d motor. So a quick rock around the exterior of the cab. Headlights have been improved, smoothed, and shaped to look like a lion’s eyes. The steps have been moved back a tad, and the surface area on the footplates increased. The result incidentally, is a superb entry that felt every bit comparable to the truck we always use as the yardstick for forward-of-the-wheel entry, the Actros. Door handles and indicators have been detailed, there are wind deflectors on the front corners, and MAN’s signature Aerodomes (did you know they were called that?) are still there on the side of the sleeper. There are only three Aerodomes now, although they are more prominent. One thing that was interesting – two things actually – were the mirrors. They were great, but the fact they were there at all was surprising. We were reassured by one senior exec that mirrorless is in the wings (Stuttgart really did steal a march on the opposition with its MirrorCam tech). Okay, that’s the simple stuff, now the biggies. The significant milestones that make this new range a revolution rather than an evolution…


Photo: New dash is clear and user-friendly. Left: SmartSelect wheel is a ‘pearler!’


Step inside…
…to a new MAN interior. It’s an entirely different space for the driver and there’s been a semi-load of dosh spent. It’s an all-digital affair, and if your imagination is on point you’d say there are Traton family ties in its appearance. It’s now a twogauge binnacle with a trip and telematics display between the gauges, and warning lights up top. There’s a far more logical and purposeful wrap swinging away to the left (right in our case hopefully). Switches on the wrap are in logical clusters, there’s a nest of safety feature ones, a nest of ‘tractiony’ ones, and a nest of ‘air baggy’ ones – great, we’re really warming to this thing at this point. Obviously, it has a smart wheel. MAN says it’s limited functions so hands-on-wheel time stays higher, although it contains the usual menu controller for telematics and trip, cruise functions, phone, and a bit on infotainment management also. It does use thumb scrollers though, which would allow hands to remain on the tiller. The shifter is now on the right wand with direction control in tumbler style and up/down manual shifts. Engine brake and retarder are activated by pulling the wand down. Indicators, dip, and wipers are on the left wand. The infotainment screen on the wrap is a big 12” jobbie and that’s where things really ramp up. The war is on people, in terms of how to manage the universe of options and functions in a modern infotainment device, and MAN has rolled out a cracker…the SmartSelect wheel. We saw it in Munich in October and thought ‘Oh yeah that’s very cool’, and reuniting with it again in Spain saw none of our ‘married at first sight’ enthusiasm lost. The wheel is MAN’s take and interpretation on technology developed by car sibling, Audi. “An intensive exchange of ideas with these colleagues,” is how Dr Zohm described it. “Why shouldn’t we use their experience and technology?”

The SmartSelect wheel is simple, impervious to contamination from the likes of your grubby fingers, and will always move with you, not against you (i.e. trying to scroll a swipe screen when the truck goes over a bump may result in something other than the intended). The bottom wheel scrolls the master menu, the top wheel the micro-menu, and ‘tap’ the top to select. If you’re a safecracker-turned-truck-driver, we reckon you won’t even have to look after a while. ‘Three right, two left, *click*, The Rock!’ Loved it, loved it, loved it. Fit, finish, and materials you’ll never fault. You may recall in the Waiotahi Contractors test (New Zealand Trucking magazine May 2019) we were a bit ‘Meh’ on the storage lockers that run along the front of the dash and the plasticky feel to the lids. Well, they’re caput! Lovely robust pull-out drawers now adorn that area, with an oddments tray, cup holders and all that jazz. There were a lot of cool extras in the launch trucks – coffee machines, microwaves, fridges, passenger seats that turn into tables and swing sideways to become recliners in the evening. The fridge is in the usual under-bunk place and the sleeper had essential controls for comfort-related things so you don’t have to jump out of bed to adjust. There’s also a cabled remote which controls climate, radio, inclination of the bed, and electronic log book (so you can lay in bed and fill out your log book we guess). ‘Cabled?’ We hear you say. Yes, cabled. By request from the consulted drivers evidently…that way they’re impossible to lose or take home and leave in the laundry basket. LOL, we’re all the same.



EE, the invisible giant
It stands for electrical and electronic architecture. It’s the reason why the range has been changed, not just a specific model. “For us it is a huge effort and huge investment to do such a change over the whole range, TGL, TGM, TGS, and TGX,” said Drees. “We have something that’s extremely futureproofed, a powerful tool.” This is not the same MAN as you have or have ever had, in any way. You might not be able to see that entirely, but you’ll notice it. These are the platform trucks for the cyber-age, prepped and ready for alternative power and autonomy. That even means retro-fitting. They are simpler in their electrical and electronic construct yet infinitely more capable; what’s more, the bulk of the work was done in-house. Modern trucks tend to be a commune of third-party electronics systems, each with their own processors and controllers, each trying to communicate. Apparently, it’s where a lot of unreliability stems from. MAN wanted to own its own destiny in this field, so the answer? A clean slate. To use another Dr Zohm gem, “They’re like a mobile smart phone”. What he means is buried deep in the bowels is a supercomputer that manages everything in the truck and everything that hangs off it. Seventy percent of the operating system (over 2.8 million lines of code) was written in-house. MAN essentially owns their brain. Complexity is reduced, effectiveness and ability is transformed. Updates, driver assistance systems, vehicle systems, digital fleet management, attachments like cranes and chillers, and customer interfaces, become increasingly interactive.


The reformation
Chairman of the management board for MAN Truck and Bus, Joachim Drees, stands in front of the world’s media at the Bilbao exhibition centre. Behind him is a huge picture of the company’s brand new TGX flagship painted in gold topaz, the official launch colour. Drees is a big, intimidating bloke, standing over six foot. He’s typical German in terms of presence, and that trademark charisma and warmth that veils a no-nonsense pragmatic reality. He’s obviously an incredibly clever and capable man, most in those roles are, but Drees obviously has something else. In his hands is an invisible hat, one that he appears to have pulled two rabbits out of. The first is an entirely new range of MAN TG trucks; the second a restructured, new look, and refocused company. Either one of those would be a colossal task in an enterprise as large as this; two at once an exceptional achievement, and he’s only been in the role for just on half a decade. “New TG means a lot for the company. MAN has gone through massive change. We have transformed ourselves,” he said. “MAN today is a different company than it was five years ago. We’ve have invested heavily in our people and in crosscollaboration. Today MAN is a customer-focused company.”

He appears to be a classic facilitator: set the scene, establish the boundaries, then stand back and let talented people flourish, people he was at pains to thank. His background is automotive, finance, and construction/ infrastructure procurement, project management, and implementation, so all this was right up his alley. It would appear he was handpicked for exactly what he’s delivered. It’s all come right on cue as well. Like the Stuttgart-based arch-rival, he acknowledged the need for further work on profitability in order to fund research and development, and that’s going to get pretty tricky in a European market that’s been about 15% off the boil. But he has huge motivation to make it all work going forward when you think about who he reports to. Speaking at the launch event, Traton’s powerhouse CEO Andreas Renschler said, “This is not just a new truck, it’s a milestone for MAN and a milestone for our customers.” The work has only just started.


Let’s drive one!
“There’s your truck, Dave,” said Klaus Fischer from the MAN communications team for trucks. He was pointing to a TGX 18.510 adorned in the lovely gold topaz. The left-hook 4x2 tractor was towing a tri-axle semi-trailer and tipped the scales at 35 tonne by all accounts. I was teamed up with chaperone Steve Gibbins from the driver training team at Penske in Brisbane. They put us together because we were neighbours and there’d be no communication confusion; the only problem was he’d only been in Bilbao 18 hours longer than me and had managed one scoping run around the 45min drive course himself. A quick sign of the iPad screen saying whatever you wreck you pay for, and off we went, straight into a roundabout in downtown Bilbao, Dave at the helm and Steve furiously studying maps on his device. Bilbao. Imagine a 350,000-person city in the Hutt Valley. Motorways and rail run along and up the hills on the flanks of town and wherever there’s a gully there’s a viaduct, and wherever there’s a hill there’s a tunnel. The port is a main entry point into and out of northern and central Spain and it’s a major hub for big companies. The first sign that a truck is good is how quickly you’re comfortable driving a foreign configuration, in a foreign town, on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the cab.

Photo: Lookout Spain, here we come …in comfort.

I’ll admit I was hugely thankful for the few thousand miles I’ve racked up in the States, but once I was through the roundabout, up the street, around a right turn, under a bridge, and stopped at the lights, I was already thinking “Yep, this is trick!” European set-ups are different. Yes, it was a tractor and semi, but you rarely see a 6x4 here, and there seems a lot of semi forward of the kingpin. That makes for a very different feel at the wheel. They manage the tight as buggery European urban streets well, and the wee tractors are super-manoeuvrable. Up an insanely narrow motorway onramp entrance, the 510 sounded great, and accelerated smoothly. The cab was a bit rolly in and around the streets, but soft is where it’s at over here on account of the expressways being out of this world. It’s like driving on a snooker table. I had the proximity radar set well forward for obvious reasons and the truck did its thing. You could certainly feel that semi letting you know it was there. Downspeeding is most definitely where it’s at in Europe and if you walked into a throng of drivers and told them you ‘drive the AMT on manual because it gives me more control’, they’d all look at you, there’d be an uneasy pause, and they’d all take a giant step back. “What’d I say?” The 13-litre D2676 LF engine produces 375kW (510PS) and 2600Nm (1980lb/ft) between 930rpm and 1350rpm. Believe me, it’s not far past that 1350rpm when it’ll take another gear. But the thing is, it seems just right. Like we always say, the effectiveness of the player is always determined by the quality of the surface, and the surface in Spain was lovely. We exited and climbed into the hills and up over a ridge then down a forested gully.

Photo: MAN 6689. Yep, we bonded!

The engine brake and retarder made mincemeat of the load, and with the brake-activated descending control, it was a case of sit back and enjoy the ride that ended at another tiny roundabout where we turned and headed back. It’s hard to say what the grade back up to the ridge was like, South side of the Bombays? That’ll do. The MAN loped up, the TipMatic in 9th at 1250rpm and 40km/h. Swinging back down onto the motorway, we headed for the city. We couldn’t believe the engineering. Over the right railing it was about 200-plus feet to the port activities below. Comfort-wise the truck was impeccable. The MAN was silky smooth, beautiful driver positioning, great dash, and a lovely steering wheel. I was comfortable enough to have a tinker with the SmartSelect wheel for the infotainment. It really is a gem. So simple…dial and click. There’s a hinged guard you lock over the wheel when you’re not using it to avoid accidently bumping it and losing your favourite station or critical map. They’ve thought of everything. Back in town and I threaded my way to the exhibition centre. I was feeling right at home in this new TGX and the thought crossed my mind, ‘If I shot into the port and sussed a load for Italy, would they miss one out of the 50-plus trucks that seemed to be there? Maybe they would. Maybe EE would shut me down. Maybe I better had go back.’