MAN Trucks have generally been seen as a niche brand in Australia.
Its 8x8 off-road trucks have a solid reputation in the mining exploration sector.
A few years ago, West Australian Dealer AV Trucks secured an immense order for more than 100 8x8 units for Ausdrill, delivering the entire fleet over a 12-18 month period.
At last check, the trucks are running well despite being close to maximum GVM 100% of the time and rarely on the highway.
Not only that, access to drilling sites is usually across almost virgin ground that stresses the chassis to the max.
I recently met with Gerry Stone, boss of the MAN division of Penske Commercial Vehicles, the Australian distributor of the brand.
It was clear from our discussions that volume changes at MAN have been significant with the easing of the mining and construction markets and the shrinking of the available bus market.
In the medium duty truck arena, MAN sells around 100 units a year.
Because of the combination of currency rates and the ultra- competitveness of the major Japanese brands, MAN will always be vulnerable to price competitiveness.
Even though the trucks have a rock-solid reputation for quality and durability, a quote competition almost always falls in favour of an Isuzu or a Hino.
However, Gerry noted that Australia Post has recently purchased MAN products in open competition with much cheaper trucks because the fuel savings alone from the MAN technology outweighed the additional capital cost over the truck's lifetime. Gerry sees the biggest opportunity in Australia in the 6x4 on-highway market, where trucks between 440 and 540hp have a wide range of uses.
The 10.5-litre D20 engine is at maximum output for 440hp, and the 12.4-litre D26 offers 480 and 540hp.
At those engine capacities, the drivelines are probably working at maximum capacity for regional B-double work, but other than an operator with a fixed preference for high power with low mechanical stress, the reputation of MAN is such that this is unlikely to be a factor in a buying decision.
It's in this market where a major MAN research project called UR:BAN may have an impact.
Eberhard Hipp, head of research at MAN Truck & Bus, is coordinating the project and noted that the traffic situation in cities means road users are driving in very dense traffic conditions, which makes reaction times short.
"Our aims in this project are to analyse traffic movement using innovative systems and new technologies, and determine driving strategies to optimise fuel consumption, identify dangerous situations and protect drivers from possible human error."
In the Networked Traffic System sub-project, MAN is developing a Green Wave assistant.
The aim is to optimise the use of the green traffic light phases on main inner-urban routes in order to save on fuel and time.
The traffic light system wirelessly transmits its switching intervals to the vehicle via a server.
The vehicle uses this data to calculate a suitable strategy to arrive at only green lights for the planned route.
In other words, the vehicle automatically chooses its own most appropriate speed.
For this to happen, the necessary communication infrastructure first needs to be set up: servers need to be able to transmit information from the city's traffic light management system.
The UR:BAN project is currently working with two model cities: Düsseldorf and Kassel.