Recently, I travelled to the Spanish port city of Bilbao. The reason for my trip? The global debut of MAN’s new truck generation – bedazzling in gold – and a seat at the highly sought-after VIP event celebrating its arrival.
The event was a Seriously Big Deal in the world of MAN and, indeed, in the entire trucking fraternity. I say this because it was the company’s first product launch in a whopping two decades. Actually, it wasn’t just a product launch; it was the launch of an all-new range, because the new truck generation covers the TGL, TGM, TGS and TGX model series from 7,5 to 41 t.
Now I know what you’re all wondering: was it worth the wait? Most certainly. Yes, the exterior is more of an evolution, and I’m not a big fan of this (I was hoping for a truck that looked completely new). However, the interior is a definite revolution – and that’s probably more important to truckers anyway.
I’m testing the truck in Sweden (probably as you’re reading this article) and will publish a comprehensive road test in a future issue of FOCUS – well in advance of the truck’s launch in South Africa in March 2021. However, for now, here are the things I like most about the new truck.
I simply have to kick off with this aspect of the truck – because the interior rocks; to be frank, it’s not unlike a luxury car. All the materials are decidedly high-end, and it looks and feels premium. Even the steering wheel looks and feels good; it boasts what MAN calls “an ergonomically varying thickness”.
Practically, this means that it really does feel good in your hand. It’s almost infinitely adjustable, too; the steering wheel can be adjusted by
110 mm, and the driving position can be adjusted between 20 and 55oᵒ, bringing it to a similar position as in a car. To make getting into the truck easier when parked, it can also be completely folded down into a horizontal position.
The steering wheel is equipped with a variety of controls. On the left is cruise and distance control; on the right you control functions such as the radio, telephone and the MAN media system.
The control lever for the automated transmission is now located on the right of the steering column next to the engine brake lever (it used to be a pneumatic lever located in its own centre console next to the driver’s seat).
As one of my colleagues commented at the launch: “At last, the orphaned switch block with the rotary switch for the transmission control, and the parking brake lever next to the driver’s seat, are finally history.” (I cannot help but concur.) Speaking of the parking brake, it’s now electrically operated, and it’s situated in the main dashboard just to the right of the steering wheel.
The most important feature of the interior (in my mind anyway) is the MAN SmartSelect infotainment system. It works using a central rotary control much as one you would find in many luxury cars. And the really cool thing is that it incorporates a fold-out hand rest – so you can forget about shoulder pains. With MAN SmartSelect, you just turn and press the control. It’s very easy to use; the menu is logically structured and it also happens to look good.
Interestingly, MAN has deliberately forgone the use of a touch screen for the media system. This is because, when using a touch screen, your gaze automatically follows your finger – and is thus directed away from the road.
“Furthermore, the screen has to be placed at a level where it can be reached by hand, which makes it more difficult to adjust one’s gaze between close-range and distance viewing. On the whole, the use of a touch screen means that, to operate it, drivers have to shift their gaze from what is happening on the road for a relatively long time. This means a higher safety risk,” one of the engineers told me.
Practicality par excellence
There are lots of practical features of the new truck that will make the driver’s life so much easier. Just one is the MAN EasyControl system – which means that the driver doesn’t necessarily have to climb in and out of the truck.
Inside the driver’s door, there are four control panels that can be easily accessed from outside the vehicle. Depending on configuration, they come pre-programmed with key functions or can even be implemented according to individual needs. Shutting the sliding roof, switching on the spotlights or starting the engine for the tipping operation … all of these functions can now also be activated from outside the truck. The driver can also switch on the hazards from the outside in a flash.
Another wonderfully practical feature is the lack of a centre console in the new truck generation – so the driver can walk straight through the cab. Then there are also the new drawers below the dashboard. An A4 clipboard fits in there easily. These are just some of the practical features that will make drivers grin from gear to gear.
It goes without saying (but here goes anyway): fuel economy is vitally important to transport operators. The new truck generation offers lower lifecycle costs, a higher load capacity and (cue the trumpets) fuel consumption that is up to eight percent lower. The fuel savings are courtesy of the Euro-6d engines, optimised drive axle, improved aerodynamics and GPS-assisted cruise control. What a deal!
Brilliant safety features
As expected from any new truck, there are safety features galore. Many of our readers will be familiar with these features, but I will explain them briefly. The newly developed turn assist helps to prevent serious accidents in urban traffic – four years before the legally prescribed introduction.
The lane-change assist warns the driver of vehicles in the next lane. Lane departure warning gives an acoustic warning if the vehicle leaves its lane. Lane-return assist kicks in if the vehicle leaves its lane (it is brought back into the lane by a corrective steering movement).
The emergency brake assist system warns the driver of an impending collision and automatically initiates a braking procedure in an emergency. MAN AttentionGuard monitors the driver’s fitness for driving, while adaptive cruise control automatically regulates the speed and the distance to traffic ahead. There’s also a driver’s airbag and high-beam assist, which automatically dips the high beam in good time and prevents the drivers of oncoming vehicles from being blinded.
Incredible electric and electronic (EE) architecture
This isn’t something that’s immediately apparent, but it’s really cool. Apparently, vehicles with decentralised EE architectures have been usual until now. Many functions – from cruise control to turn assist – have their own hardware.
“It’s like having a laptop that runs only Microsoft Word. You would need to buy a new laptop if you want to use Excel. A paradox, but not so unusual in the automotive industry,” says Stefan Teuchert, head of EE systems at MAN. Communication between the installed hardware is also sometimes difficult and retrofitting has its limits – problems Teuchert and his team wanted to solve.
And so they did! The result is a completely new EE architecture. Its core is a central computer inside the vehicle, a kind of brain through which all information is fed and which controls all required processes.
The great thing about it: new functions can be loaded via internet interfaces, similar to using a smartphone, without any need to take the vehicle to a workshop. These could include functions and apps that support fuel-efficient driving or help meet regulatory requirements.
“It is also straightforward to integrate third-party software. This enables even more functionality and added value for the user. This openness and flexibility make the new MAN truck a future-proof and sustainable vehicle. Its real strength will be felt in the coming years, especially when it virtually updates itself with new functions quickly and easily,” Teuchert explains.
It’s what drivers and customers want
Finally, one of the features that I like most about the new truck range is the fact that it’s exactly what drivers and operators want. I know you’re wondering how on earth I can make such a sweeping statement. I can, because MAN did a massive amount of market research before designing the new series.
For instance, the MAN developers presented different prototypes to over 700 drivers – and then asked them for their opinions. The company also invited 300 national and international customers from a total of 16 countries to Munich, in order to define the most important requirements for a new vehicle with them. The developers compared this diverse input with the feedback from the driver interviews … and then they set about creating the new MAN truck generation.
So yes, this is a truck generation that the customers and drivers both want and need. Sounds like a recipe for success methinks…