May 25, 2016 9:40 AM, EDT

Volkswagen’s MAN Trucks Triples Tech Team as Big Rigs Go Online

Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg News

Volkswagen AG’s truck unit MAN is nearly tripling the size of its digital division to add self-driving technology and make freight loading more efficient, seeking new sources of income as big rigs are increasingly linked via the Internet.

The technology team will increase to about 120 people by the end of the year from 45 currently, MAN CEO Joachim Drees said in an interview. Volkswagen said last month its MAN and Scania commercial vehicle units will spend a combined mid-three-digit million-euro amount in the next five years on connectivity to keep pace with similar efforts at Daimler AG, the biggest truckmaker.

“We’re aiming to broaden our business beyond the sale of new trucks,” Drees said, adding the company wants to help its customers “cope with the rapidly changing ecosystem of transport.”

Connecting trucks online to provide real-time data is essential for logistics, Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler’s trucks unit, said last month. Daimler is investing 500 million euros ($558 million) through 2020 in the technology. Truck makers say they need to offer brand-specific services such as monitoring engine performance alongside platforms open to all brands since fleet operators rarely use one type of truck only.

MAN’s push includes building a platform to share information about spare capacity in a specific truck, potentially boosting goods-transport efficiency by a quarter. Currently about half of freight capacity isn’t fully used, the company said. Connecting trucks will also help manufacturers move toward autonomous driving, allowing vehicles to link to one another to move in a closely spaced platoon, saving fuel and road space.