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Know all about MAN!
Joshua Crasto in Mumbai | April 29, 2006
My idea of large engines were ones that displace around 3000cc to 4000cc in a six- or eight-cylinder configuration, rated at maybe 300 to 400-odd horses and probably the size of a large television.
Well, my idea of what constitutes big powerplants has been crushed, demolished and vaporised even, after my visit to MAN's facilities in Germany. These guys build engines in all sizes and some even bigger than all of them put together. As big as a mansion, I'd reckon, and with 1,40,000 bhp on tap, they'd make a Bugatti Veyron engine look like a scale model.
MAN? What MAN? Who MAN? Okay, for those of you who aren't familiar with the MAN group, it's a German conglomerate with interests in commercial vehicles, refineries, steel mills, turbines, diesel engines, large diesel engines and larger diesel engines.
Oh, and this newspaper, in all probability, has been printed using MAN machinery because they are also the second largest manufacturer of printing systems in the world.
So now that you know who MAN is, let me also tell you that MAN Nutzfahrzeuge - the commercial vehicle division of the MAN group - have entered into a joint venture with Pune-based Force Motors to manufacture commercial vehicles as well as their components in India for the domestic and export markets.
The joint venture will see around 24,000 vehicles being built annually at Force Motors' plant at Pithampur near Indore. Now these will include 16- to 49-tonne trucks, for purposes as varied as mining to container transport and everything in between.
They also made sure that a few select journalists, including me, were allowed to take a look at some of MAN's enormous truck and engine facilities in Germany.
MAN has quite a few commercial vehicle facilities in Europe, of which their Munich facility builds the heavy range of vehicles while a sprawling plant in the beautiful Austrian city of Steyr puts out medium and light commercial vehicles.
But to me, the most exciting of all these is the facility at Vienna which has special purpose vehicles rolling off the assembly line. And by special purpose, I don't mean a refrigerated truck built to carry ice-cream, I'm talking about humongous 40-tonners that are used to transport men and machines by armed forces throughout the world.
An interesting piece of information that I was let in on was that almost 70 per cent of the military trucks used in Iraq are built by MAN.
Vienna wasn't in our itinerary; instead our destination was the walled city of Nuremberg. Famous for its Christmas market, gingerbread cookies and an underground brewery, the city is more importantly home to MAN's engine plant - in fact, the N in MAN stands for Nuremberg.
The largest employer in this historic German town, MAN has a 3,500 strong workforce that does everything from forging engine blocks to fitting the injectors on the engines. The plant builds every single engine that goes into a MAN truck, including the famous 1,500 bhp D28 and the 140 to 326 bhp D08 series and a few CNG engines as well.
A tour around the facility with Dr Held, the chief of R&D at MAN, gave me an opportunity to see their assembly line as well as their extensive R&D facility that boasts of over 80 high-tech test benches that check engines on various parameters and a sound room that was so eerily silent that it made a pin-drop sound loud.
Interestingly, MAN has been very successful in the European Truck Racing Championship - the Formula 1 of trucks and you'll be pleased to know that the engines used in these trucks are ultra-quiet, terribly powerful and are based on the D08 series that we'll soon see in India. I should know, I saw one in testing.
However, the D08 series will eventually be phased out in Europe with the newer generation D28 engines gaining popularity. Considering the extensive testing of CNG engines and the revolutionary green motors fuelled by hydrogen at a special centre at Nuremberg, it looks like Europe is going green in a hurry.
MAN intends to transfer all D08 technology to Pithampur where these engines will be built with local content for India and for other countries that are still adhering to Euro III norms.
Our busy itinerary also had us visit Steyr, a small town built on the banks of the rivers Einns and Steyr in Austria. It is well known in automotive circles as it is home to Steyr trucks and also has a BMW engine factory.
I also found out later that Dr Ferdinand Porsche lived in Steyr for a few years and surprisingly a certain Adolf studied at a school here, although everybody in the town refuses to admit it. Back to the trucks. MAN Nutzfahrzeuge took over Steyr trucks in 1990 and have been using the factory to build light and medium sized trucks, the ones that are between 18 to 42 tonnes - some of which will soon be seen on Indian roads.
The factory also has an impressive training centre that runs the train a trainer programme for technicians all over the world.
MAN's Steyr plant is a super efficient, mini fortress. Photography is banned in the plant and by some unimaginable calculation, they effectively run a four-shift cycle of eight hours each. Don't ask me how.
The Steyr plant has some rather awesome work orders as well. They build a few structural bits for the Maybach as well as stamp all the body panels for the famed Mercedes G-Wagen.
The Force Motors plant will closely resemble the Steyr assembly line and they will put together 16 to 49 tonne GVW/GCW trucks that will be powered by 180 and 220 bhp engines.
Force will also have access to over 3,000 applications for the range of trucks. And although they won't be stamping G-Wagens at Pithampur yet, Force is ready to change the face of the trucking industry in India. Double cabs, electronic driving aids, exhaust braking systems, revolutionary engines and even double beds are what the new trucks are all about.
After an unhappy experience in China, everybody at MAN seemed very upbeat about the Indian venture. High quality components, a good hub for exports to the Middle East and Africa and cheap labour is what made India a natural choice – they plan to export 12,000 trucks by next year itself. Let alone trucks, MAN is already pushing for a bus deal to go through.
In fact, the Pithampur plant is ready to be inaugurated on Saturday. Yes, expect the face of our roads to change for the better very soon. In a large, very large way.