Friday 5 June 2020

Interview with Göran Nyberg of MAN Truck & Bus

Richard Simpson caught up with Göran Nyberg, executive board member for sales and marketing at MAN Truck & Bus, to discuss the manufacturer’s transition to sustainable transport

Göran Nyberg, former managing director of Volvo Group in the UK, now has a seat on the main board at rival MAN in Germany as director of sales and marketing, where he is charged with moving the company from being purely a manufacturer, to “providing intelligent and sustainable transport solutions.”

It’s a timely appointment. Uncertainty about future legislation is casting a shadow over an otherwise healthy market for heavy-duty diesel-engined vehicles across Europe, including the UK.

Nyberg had been with Volvo Group since 2003, including serving a five-year stint as managing director of its UK subsidiary, the UK being the country where his children had since made their homes. He had left to become head of sales and marketing of Volvo Trucks North America in 2012. The previous occupant of his seat on the MAN board, Heinz-Jurgen Low, is now undertaking the role on the board of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

“I have been competing with MAN in different markets for many years,” Nyberg joked.

In terms of the health of his new employer, he reported that MAN had enjoyed its best year in a decade in 2018, and the bus division had reported its second-best year ever. Its new venture into the van market had seen 10,000 vehicles ordered, and the aftersales division had enjoyed its best sales ever.

The biggest issue facing the company was also the biggest issue facing the industry: the shape of future legislation governing the construction and use of heavy-duty diesels.

“Challenges bring positives and negatives, but it is hard for us to read the shape of future legislation,” he admitted.

“Change comes with opportunities, and for us these include electro-mobility, autonomous driving digitalisation, and alternative fuels.

“With digitalisation, we have just scratched the surface in reducing the total cost of ownership,” he opined.

“We are going from the manufacture and sale of trucks and buses to ‘solutions sales’.”

The legislation on fuel consumption reduction deadlines due in 2025 and 2030 meant that MAN was looking at alternative powertrains in buses, trucks and vans.

“The exact choice is subject to suitable infrastructure and energy being available, and legislators need to pay attention to the complexities of introducing new fuels,” he warned.

“They need to understand the global impact of any fuel ‘well to wheel’. We have a shortage of ‘green’ fuels. Hydrogen and (methane) gas are both questionable in this respect.

“We need stable legislation if we are to produce a solution at an affordable cost: for instance, the electric and hybrid buses and electric trucks and vans shown at the IAA last year.

“There is a palette of alternative technologies, but we need have a roadmap to navigate the choices available.”

MAN was in a strong position, both as a provider of a wide range of good products in the truck, van and bus arenas, and as a member of the wider VW Group.

This would be manifest in steps taken towards autonomy.

“There are a lot of benefits to be had from autonomous technology in terms of efficiency and safety, but taking the driver away is a long way ahead, if ever. If it does come, it will be most likely in controlled environments ahead of public roads.”

Digitalisation might bring more immediate benefits.

“We can generate lots of data from vehicles and systems,” Nyberg notes. “This will enable us to improve utilisation and ensure our customers are the most efficient operators in the industry.

“MAN is determined to stay ahead and be an early adaptor in this. There is obviously a lot of engineering heritage in MAN, but as a supplying business to our customers we also must be fast, lean and efficient both internally and externally.

“A truck is a truck, a bus a bus and a van a van, but what makes the difference is the help you can bring to customers: for instance, by optimising usage and anticipating maintenance needs.

“The MAN product is now really reliable, and we can now concentrate on putting the customer first. The Customer First programme means MAN will be fully focused on the customers’ needs, at all times. The good times, the bad times, and the ugly times.

“Last year we recorded our highest ever customer satisfaction ratings in the UK and Europe. The UK transport industry is very competitive and I feel we have turned a corner in the UK with customer trust. I’m looking forward to pursuing business in the UK. You only get what you deserve.

“The next three, five and seven years will be very exciting,” he hinted. “Lots of research and development will be shown in this time. We are confident that we can meet and exceed the demands of legislators, but we need targets firmly set.”

Nyberg appeared determined to avoid getting drawn into the nitty-gritty of Brexit, but commented: “There will always be a new ‘normal’ and the UK is very important to MAN.”

Questioned by Transport Operator on the impact of the National Infrastructure Commission’s proposal that the sale of diesel trucks be banned by 2040, and their use forbidden by 2050, Nyberg said: “We can adapt to any technology, but we need infrastructure to support it.

“The current power grids are not able to cope with the demands that would be imposed upon them by electro-mobility. We need a clear direction and enough lead time.

“In any case, we are not an energy provider. Today, the talk is all about vehicles, but we need to take a broader picture into account.”

Seeking an example of the benefits digitisation could bring, Nyberg pointed to practice in North America, where technologies such as geofencing are used to measure how effectively vehicles are used, by, for instance, accurately plotting the times they arrive and leave customer’s depots.

In addition, he said, wireless technology could be used to eliminate some workshop visits.

“When we need a software update for a mobile phone, we don’t take it to the phone shop and leave it there for a couple of days,” he pointed out.

“It is done remotely. There is no reason why vehicles should have to be taken to workshops for software upgrades. This is not only good news for operators: there are also physical constraints on the number of vehicles that can be accommodated at any one time in many workshops.”

The question of skills shortages, both behind the wheel and in the workshop, was raised.

“It’s hard to attract new employees, especially technicians,” Nyberg admitted.

“The ‘controlled environment’ in work is causing many drivers to give up, and it will get worse.”

He explained that the potential career paths open to technicians needed to be promoted.

“If you don’t want to continue in higher education, you can start as a technician and still work your way to director level, taking up educational opportunities along the way,” he asserted.

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