Specialist bodybuilder Aliweld and MAN have teamed up to produce a slimmed-down 8x4 35.400 tipper that’s a heavyweight performer
News that MAN’s Gateshead dealership had got itself a new 8x4 TGS 35.400 tipper demonstrator didn’t have anyone at CM clearing their diary to race up the A1 – especially when we heard it was specced to carry Tarmac, so there would be no excuse to sink it up to its axles in a quarry somewhere. Then we got the details and everything changed.
This tipper is special because it’s light. It has a tare of just 11,940kg and we have the weighbridge tickets to prove it. That means it has the holy grail of tipper payloads – 20 full tonnes. And that still leaves another 60kg for the driver to use up with a week’s food and clothing, which is handy, because it’s hit that weight despite having a sleeper cab.
In fact, in no way is this truck poverty-spec to achieve that low tare. It has a 400hp engine, toys including MAN’s Paver Brake and off-road steering brake, a 12-speed TipMatic gearbox and a big 390-litre fuel tank that was full when we weighed off. This thing even comes with an underbunk fridge, for crying out loud.
All of which begs two obvious questions: how did MAN get the weight down, and how does the skinny little thing that’s left perform on the road? It was time to head for Gateshead after all.
The first thing we spot on arrival is a full set of Alcoa Dura-Bright EVO wheels, the obvious place to start a vehicular diet. But the next place is under the cab with MAN’s D15 engine, which was released last summer as the first in the manufacturer’s new Euro-6d engine line-up. A 9-litre engine, it replaces the 10.5-litre D20 and, while producing the same amount of torque as its predecessor, comes in around 230kg lighter. Part of the saving comes from an improved exhaust after-treatment system – dispensing with the EGR – making this an SCR-only engine.
In basic terms, to get the best bang for your buck you need combustion to take place at high temperatures, but that produces more NOx. Adding EGR sorts out the NOx but lowers combustion temperatures so reduces the power that can be extracted. Ditching all that in the D15 means MAN has been able to keep down the physical size of the whole engine.
Another 70kg has been lopped off by use of a single-stage turbocharger – the lack of EGR means the twin-stage turbo needed by the D20 is unnecessary. And it’s got what is, to all intents and purposes, a plastic sump. All of these changes are claimed to give an improvement in fuel efficiency of 2% over the D20.
Next comes the body, which has been supplied by aluminium specialist bodybuilder Aliweld – run by Toby Welch and Trevor Marshall just down the road from Gateshead in Ryton. We call in and find them both in their overalls and covered in evidence of their hands-on approach to the business. They know which vehicle we are talking about as soon as we mention it. “We’ve got customers waiting for that on demo!” Marshall immediately pipes up. He disappears to find the paperwork from the build, leaving Welch behind to chat.
“It’s got an Edbro CX14 ram on it, which is the lightest of them all and still carries a three-year warranty,” he enthuses. “And our bodies now are made with 8mm thick one-piece flooring in Dural, which is the hardest aluminium in the marketplace.
There’s no other bodybuilding company in the UK that does that.”
The sides of the body are 4.2mm thick and 4ft high – the standard for this part of the country – and insulation is provided by a simple air pocket. Some bodybuilders use a fibre filling in the walls, but Aliweld prefers not to. “The problem is it gets wet, and then it falls to the bottom of the cavity,” Welch explains. “So, in time, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to, and the bodies end up bulging out.”
Marshall returns with the le and joins in. “The air pocket acts like a thermos ‑ ask,” he explains. “The Tarmac’s red hot, the air inside the cavity warms up and reflects between the inner and outer skins, which in turn keeps the temperature of the product higher for longer.” This, we’re told, is a tested and proven principle. One of the larger operators in the road business conducted a 10-year trial of all the various body insulation options, including Rockwool and polystyrene slabs, and after extensive studies concluded that air pocket insulation was most effective. “We said ‘we told you that in the beginning, before you started!’” Marshall chuckles.
Aliweld bodies are some of the lightest in the marketplace. “We keep the body floor closer to the chassis so we don’t use as much aluminium,” Marshall tells us. “Then the way we t the hydraulics doesn’t use as much steel as other people. It’s just common sense.”
To prove exactly what they’ve added to a vehicle, and to save arguments further down the line, Aliweld weighs every chassis in and out of the factory. Our MAN demonstrator started off at 9,460kg as a bare chassis-cab and left weighing 11,580kg, meaning the body comes in at just 2,120kg. “That’s everything,” Marshall confirms. “So oil, tipping gear, load cells, sheeting system, body and paint.”
“People forget about the paint,” Welch adds. “But it’s heavy enough in tins, isn’t it?”
Time to see what the finished truck can actually do. Fully laden to 32 tonnes, we get behind the wheel in the company of MAN Truck & Bus Gateshead’s driver trainer, David Smith, who runs through the various controls, including the two we won’t get to play with – the paver brake and the steering brake. He also points out that this is a FORS-spec truck, so it has four-way cameras that can be viewed on the integral screen in the middle of the dash. This switches to a larger view down the blind side of the vehicle when indicating left. There’s an audible warning too, which turns a few heads as we wind our way out of Team Valley – this kind of safety equipment isn’t standard fitment in the north-east yet.
The route takes us up into the County Durham hills to the west of Gateshead and along the A692 towards Consett, before turning back along the A693 past Stanley and Beamish. This is not an easy ride out, but the D15 immediately proves that its 9-litre displacement is up to the job. The 400hp variant generates 1,800Nm of torque, all of which is needed to climb up out of the Tyne Valley with no real sign of a struggle. In fact, our main concern at this point is the steering – although it is light and easy to use, the actual wheel is the size of an old dustbin lid. This is purely a matter of personal taste, so we stretch our shoulders back at the first junction and get on with it.
One of the neatest toys on this tipper is the Paver Brake, which we weren’t able to demo for obvious reasons. Normally, when tipping into a paver on the level or a slight downhill slope, the driver must constantly keep one foot on the brake to stop the vehicle from running away and asphalt being lost. The Paver Brake is operated from a switch in the cab, and applies just enough pressure so that the paver itself can push the vehicle along, but without danger of it rolling away. This means the driver doesn’t need to get involved unless the slope is a steep one.
Of course, engine size doesn’t matter one bit unless you have a decent gearbox and the two are properly in synch – especially on roads like this. Out of the 12 speeds on offer, 8th and 7th gear are most commonly picked by the TraXon (Tipmatic) transmission. The truck is held comfortably around 1,200rpm as we head uphill, and it’s only at ear-popping stage 20 minutes into the drive that we realise how high we’ve come.
TraXon is quite a responsive gearbox, in that you can make it shift about by varying the pressure of your right foot. The software in this instance is clearly leaning towards economy at all times, and backing off allows the engine to lug down as low as 800rpm before making a block change down, rather than grabbing every gear in sequence. Give it a bit more throttle pressure, however, and it will happily drop a couple of cogs and pull away – albeit with a predictable effect on the fuel consumption. Those block changes, incidentally, are remarkably smooth, with no sign of a lurch as the lower gear engages.
MAN recommends that its vehicles are mainly driven on cruise control, even on winding stretches like this, and while it is easy enough to tap the speed up and down using the buttons on the steering wheel as instructed, it doesn’t feel quite sensible up here. On the other hand, Brakematic is a triumph. If you brake down to your preferred speed – or tap the brake if you’re already there – the engine brake and gearbox together will keep you within 4kph of that, regardless of whether you’re in cruise or not. It’s remarkably effective, and we’re happy to report it will just about hold you at 30mph down the long descent past High Flatts, though the locals won’t thank you for it.
If we have one complaint about this truck, it’s that once we’re back on flatter ground and more urban roads, it can feel somewhat sluggish pulling out at roundabouts and junctions. It’s not a delay in the gearbox – give it the correct input by tapping the throttle as you slow to a halt and it is ready to go every time. It’s just that it seems to take forever to get going. This is entirely down to the software, which is a little optimistic when it comes to changing up. That’s ne when you’re clawing your way up a drag and need the engine to dig in, but not so good when you need to nip out in front of Mrs Smith in her Aygo. Perhaps we’re just being too impatient.
Running back down the A1 and returning to Team Valley, things become more relaxed, which is a relief after what was quite a challenging drive to this point. Even that massive steering wheel seems sensible now, since it makes being precise in traffic much easier.
The only thing we haven’t talked about is road holding. For the record, this is excellent, but then with 20 tonnes in the back, it should be. All in all it’s been an enjoyable day – always a good sign in a working vehicle. And now we’ve given it back to the guys at MAN Truck & Bus in Gateshead, some of Aliweld’s customers might finally get a turn as well!
Another toy we would have liked to play with is the Steering Brake, which brakes the rear wheels on the inside of a bend by an amount based on how far the steering wheel is turned. The truck then turns far more tightly, rather as a tracked vehicle would. The Steering Brake activates when the driver depresses the switch in the cab, and is functional up to 30kph – but it only works going forward, and must only be used off the road.