MAN has invested £5m in a wholly-owned dealership on a 3.3-acre site on the Team Valley Trading Estate in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.
At the heart of the 24,400sq ft purpose-built building is a 12-bay workshop open round-the-clock Monday to Friday. It offers extensive weekend opening hours, too.
Inspection pits 28m long have been dug and kitted out with jacking rails, air lines and lighting. A set of six Stertil Koni 7.5-tonne wireless mobile column lifts has been commissioned, while other equipment includes new brake testers, compressors and a 3.0-tonne-capacity overhead crane.
The new dealership in Dukes Way Central, Princesway North, replaces a 1.5-acre site in Earlsway, just 800 yards away, which is 24 years old. It only has five bays.
Twenty technicians are employed in the new workshop – five more than in the old one. If vehicles break down in the surrounding area, then a pair of Mobile24 service vans can provide emergency assistance.
Dealership general manager, Matthew Forth, is determined that the new dealership will match and hopefully exceed the standards set by its predecessor.
“We’re used to achieving a 98 per cent first-time MoT pass rate,” he observes.
“That percentage does not include passes on rectification, by the way,” Forth adds. “We count those as a fail.”
The bulk of failures are occasioned by minor faults as opposed to major defects.
Gateshead may become an authorised testing facility (ATF) at some point in the future and already has the facilities in place to enable it to do so.
Next to the workshop is a parts department with over £340,000 worth of stock. At its heart is a Linvar carousel which can hold 2,300 part numbers when fully loaded.
Two vans provide a local delivery service to hauliers with their own repair and maintenance facilities, and to independent workshops.
Like so many franchised truck dealers, Gateshead faces intense competition from independent parts factors. Price matters, but so does availability, and the parts first-pick rate across the MAN network is now running at 85 per cent, says network business development manager, Mitch Barnes.
Everything else the customer requires should arrive the next day, he adds.
“Support is provided by our parts warehouse in Swindon and by direct deliveries from Germany,” he says.
If the item a customer needs is not in stock at a particular MAN dealership, then it may be on the shelf at one 20 or 30 miles down the road. Aware that this can be the case, MAN has set up a system which ensures that the whereabouts of an urgently-required component can be highlighted, and arrangements made to get it to the parts department in search of it.
The Gateshead opening, just ahead of the launch of the new TGS and TGX trucks, is one of the consequences of MAN’s £20m programme of investment in the 17 dealerships it owns.
Its locations in Nuneaton in Warwickshire, Bellshill near Glasgow, and Broxburn not far from Edinburgh have all been revamped, and a new dealership will open in Stockton-on-Tees in 2020.
Privately-owned MAN dealerships will be investing too, says MAN UK managing director, Thomas Hemmerich, with the total number of manufacturer and independent outlets set to rise over the next four years. At present there are 70.
“We aim to increase that to 85,” he says.
Despite all the talk about electric trucks, Hemmerich does not believe that sales are about to rocket skywards.
“Everybody is talking about them, but customers become less enthusiastic when you start discussing hard figures,” he remarks. “For now, a Euro 6 diesel remains the safest bet.
“Battery-electric and fuel cell trucks are the future, but we won’t see them used on long-haul work before 2030,” he predicts.
They are already viable solutions for short- to medium-haul work, however; and workshops are gradually starting to prepare for their arrival. MAN has built small numbers of the eTGM electric 26-tonner, with a claimed range of 125 miles – and a right-hand-drive electric eTGE van will arrive in the UK in 2020.
While the absence of a conventional engine and transmission means that electric vehicles will require less servicing than their diesel counterparts, the brakes, steering, suspension and tyres will still need maintaining.
Safety checks will still have to be carried out, and the electric motor, batteries and related electrical system may need attention from time to time.
Gateshead has wider bays than is usual, to make it easier to remove and replace battery packs, and trunking has been extended to all four corners of the workshop so that more electric power can be provided as the demand for battery vehicles grows.
The site boasts four double-vehicle electric charging points; the first UK MAN outlet to have them. “We’re hoping to equip the roof with solar panels,” says Forth.
Positioned less than half a mile from the A1(M) and two miles from the A1(M)/A194(M) junction, the new Gateshead site features a comfortable waiting area drivers can use while they wait to collect vehicles. Facilities include a digital television, vending machines for hot and cold drinks and cold snacks, and mobile phone charging points.
Staff welfare is not ignored, with a canteen and locker rooms as well as showers. Providing such facilities along with a safe, modern, well-lit and well-equipped workshop is key to recruiting and retaining technicians.
“As our business footprint has grown considerably across both the Tyne Valley and the surrounding areas, then so has our requirement for larger premises,” says Hemmerich.
“This considerable investment in a new facility clearly demonstrates our long-term commitment to both the North East and to our strong customer base in the area,” he adds. “It will allow us to grow further across the region.”
MAN’s investment in dealerships in Gateshead and other locations and the consequent improvement in aftersales support should aid its fortunes in what is without doubt a demanding bus and coach market, says UK coach and bus sales general manager, Wayne Ulph.
“What with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) and clean air zones, the industry is completely upside down,” Ulph says.
“It’s tough being a coach operator at present, and difficult to keep up with all the things that regulators want from you.”
Ulph and his colleagues are hoping to sell 70 to 80 integral coaches and chassis in 2020; an improvement on 2019’s performance. “We’re working with a third party to develop a PSVAR conversion which we should have up and running shortly,” he says.
He is also hoping to see sales of TGE-based minibuses reach around 80, with Minibus Options the favoured converter. MAN has rolled out a modification which means that the position of the AdBlue refilling point no longer prevents a front nearside passenger saloon access door from being installed.
“We should see the first eTGE minibus appear towards the end of 2020,” he adds.
Ulph would like MAN to become an effective player in the UK’s full-size bus market again, but believes that the company will have to forge links with an established British body builder to make significant progress. He is hoping to hold talks with Bamford Bus Company, the new owner of Wrightbus.
On sale in mainland Europe, the electric Lion’s City E could appeal to UK fleets given the growing interest in battery-powered buses.
“We’ll have to see if it’s going to be built with right-hand-drive though,” he comments.
Strengthening the dealer network should help improve MAN’s performance in the truck market too, Hemmerich believes.
At present it captures 9.2 to 9.3 per cent of registrations. He would like the company to reach 10 per cent, and preferably fly higher, but stresses that he has no intention of buying sales through the use of heavy discounting and short-term buy-back deals.
“I don’t want to push things too hard,” he reflects. “What I want is sustainable, healthy growth, and for that you need to have the right support network in place.
“As a manufacturer you have to be authentic, honest and not over-promise,” he observes. “That’s the secret.”