MAN's treaded adventure van rips up Austria's alpine snow
Since launching back in 2017, the MAN TGE has served as the base van for some impressive adventure vans, from a stretched, toy-hauling Landyacht, to an Iceland-grade angry lion called Max Hunt. Taking things a step further, MAN recently developed an even more extreme adventure TGE meant to "go where no van has gone before." The van trades wheels for treads to deliver a four-track drive that glides over snow, mud and sand that would swallow the tires of a more traditional 4x4 whole. When the snow melts and mud hardens, it easily swaps the treads back out for wheels.
Major auto brands including GMC and especially Nissan have had some fun over the years sliding tracks below the wheel arches of various vehicles. Earlier this year, MAN capitalized on the adventure van fever that's spread as fast as a pandemic to play with the idea of a fully tracked TGE. More specifically, it was a MAN Truck & Bus outpost in Innsbruck, Austria that reached out across Tyrol to fellow Austrian shop TrackSystems to create the TGE 3.180 4x4 combi.
With eight passengers seats and a driver's seat, the 4x4 combi is ready to drive a full crew over snow, mud, sand, bog or whatever other soft, sucking ground stands between it and its ultimate destination. A 3-cm (1.2-in) Seikel suspension lift gives the van additional ground clearance to avoid any rocks, logs or debris along the way. The tracks add roughly 300 kg (660 lb) of weight compared to regular wheels, widening the track to 2,400 mm (94.5 in).
The TGE 4x4 combi can travel at off-road speeds between 25 and 50 km/h (15.5 and 31 mph), with the eight-speed automatic typically running between 1st and 3rd gear. Braking comes by way of the standard disc brakes.
The tracked van is not meant to drive on public roads, but the track conversion is impermanent and only takes an hour to install or remove. Thanks to an adapter plate that secures to the wheel bolts, those doing the swap don't need a garage or special tools and can complete the process much like swapping summer tires with snows.
The high-ridin' tracked TGE appears more of a showcase vehicle than any type of serious product, but it could be a valuable asset to certain types of companies, especially in the Alps. MAN envisions it being quite useful for work such as ski lift maintenance and repair, remote alpine pasture supply, and high-altitude guest transport at hotels and resorts.
Not long before showing off the TGE 3.180 4x4 combi, MAN told the story of its customer Bayerische Zugspitzbahn Bergbahn AG (BZB), which operates a series of mountain transports and restaurants in the German Alps, including the cog railway up to Germany's highest peak, the 2,962-m (9,718-ft) Zugspitze. The company uses MAN TGE 4x4 vans to supply its alpine restaurants, counting on the all-wheel drive to navigate the gravel road and rough track approaches to the properties. It's not hard to imagine how the TrackSystems conversion could help those vans with their duties in the middle of winter.
While the converted TGE 3.180 4x4 combi is a passenger transporter, the TrackSystems treads can be used with the full gamut of TGE vans, according to MAN, so a tracked TGE 3.180 4x4 camper van could even serve as both shuttle and lodging, accessing scenic campsites atop snow-covered slopes, ridges and valleys, a la the Snowsuite. The treads also work with other vehicles, and TrackSystems shows them pictured on off-roaders like the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Dacia Duster.