Diesel News has featured many stories from Brian Weatherley over the years, this time we are looking back 18 years at his first story. 18 years ago Brian considered MAN’s then-new TGA. In this, his last feature, he considers the Lion brand’s progress in the intervening years and its future prospects.
Look at the front of any MAN truck and at the top of the grille and you’ll see its trademark Lion logo standing proudly. Leos and the Munich truck-maker go together like…well ‘Love and Marriage’ as Old Blue Eyes sang.
Actually, the MAN iconic badge was originally created by another German truck maker, Büssing. Famous for its underfloor-engine chassis, Büssing first used a stylised Lion in its advertising in 1913, before it became an integral part of the company’s corporate branding in 1921. When MAN bought Büssing 50 years later, the Lion came with the package and it’s appeared on the front of MAN trucks and buses ever since.
Despite that, I’ve occasionally thought a ‘Dark Horse’ might be more appropriate. Why? Because in Blighty MAN has been one of the best-kept secrets in the business. As a former MD of MAN Truck and Bus UK once said, ‘It’s taken us 20 years to become an overnight sensation…” It’s still ongoing.
Based on registration figures supplied by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (the body that produces annual vehicle stats for cars, vans, trucks and buses in Britain) last year MAN‘s 7.4 per cent share of the 6.0-tonne plus heavy-truck market put it in sixth place behind Iveco, Volvo, Scania, Mercedes and DAF.
That’s way below its potential and certainly below what it’s achieved in the past, not least on prime movers. Quite why MAN isn’t higher up the pommie truck league table is a mystery to me. It ticks all the boxes.
For starters, it’s a ‘full-range’ manufacturer i.e. it offers a line-up of vans and trucks from the recently-launched three tonne TGE right up to the top-of-the-range 44 tonne TGX prime mover, with various points in between covering 4×2 rigids and multi-wheelers. Its build-quality is as good as anybody’s (in some cases it’s better). Climb into any MAN, whether it’s the smallest TGE or largest TGX, and there’s an unmistakable Teutonic toughness backed-up by demonstrable driver comfort.
It’s also got an impressive history of engineering innovation. As far back as 1985, MAN was one of the first continental chassis manufacturers to see the potential of automated transmissions in a top-weight truck. Its early work with Eaton, first with its Semi-Automated Mechanical Transmission (SAMT) and later Automated Mechanical Transmission (AMT) laid down a clear-marker as to the future of heavy-truck transmissions, namely, a fully-automated multi-speed, constant-mesh box that’s electronically-synchronised.
Indeed, its commitment to automation was proved by the fact that it was one of the first manufacturers, if not THE first, to make a two-pedal auto (ZF’s AS Tronic) standard across its range. Today, its TGS and TGX prime movers (the former with a 2.3m wide cab, the latter with a full-width 2.5m cabin…thus, the benefits of a modular cab range) have ZF’s latest TraXon auto.
Throughout the years, Munich has come-up with plenty of concept trucks too, like its UXT 4×4 prime mover in the late 80s with an under-floor mid-mounted engine. Then in 1992 there was its front-wheel-drive all-wheel-steering SLW 2000 ‘Distribution truck of the Future’.
In 2010 at the IAA it was the turn of its radically curvaceous Concept S aerodynamic tractor offering a 25 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and CO₂. Fast forward to this year’s Hanover Show and the climax of MAN’s press event was undoubtedly the roll-out of ‘CitE’, an all-electric, low-entry, pedestrian and cycle-friendly 15 tonne urban-delivery four-wheeler. For the record, MAN is currently developing a range of all-electric trucks based on its conventional TGM and TGS chassis.
So there’s no question. MAN has all the tools, except possibly one, charisma. Ask your average pommie driver which truck he’d most like to be behind the wheel of and they’ll likely answer Scania or Volvo. And while DAF’s XF remains extremely popular with drivers and Merc’s Actros has had a notably good reception too, it’s the Swedes that consistently make the running on driver-appeal. As for MAN, well you’ve got to drive one to appreciate it.
The thing is, what MAN does well, it does without making a fuss about it. How well? At the recent annual Motor Transport Awards here in Britain its TGX won ‘Fleet Truck of the Year 2018’, based on the deliberations of a judging panel made up entirely of big fleet operators.
Talking of which, one market sector where MAN does particularly well is in the UK petroleum tanker business where it claims an impressive 80 per cent penetration in primary forecourt distribution fleets. A fact exemplified by the recent deal for 89 new TGS 24.420 6×2 tractors placed by major contract tanker operator Hoyer Petrolog UK.