Automated Manual Transmissions
NACFE is highly confident that automated manual transmissions offer a good business case for adoption today.
Fleets should expect to see an average 1–3% improvement in fuel economy from automatic manual transmissions, which use a computer to shift the manual transmission at the optimal time. They are much easier to drive than manual transmissions because they eliminate the manual shifter and clutch. These enhancements result in lower driver turnover, which in turn reduces recruiting and training costs.
Improved driver recruitment and retention are big factors behind many fleet owners’ decision to specify these transmissions over manual transmissions. In addition, they reduce the variability in fuel economy from one driver to the next.
Note: All benefits and consequences are the same for automated manual transmissions (AMTs) and automatic transmissions except for the fuel economy performance. AMTs offer 1-3% fuel economy improvements and enable even higher levels of performance in future with features such as downspeeding, and the use of GPS to better manage hills and valleys. Fuel savings from automatic transmissions are yet to be determined.
Because electronics are making the decision about when to shift gears, the truck shifts into the right gear when it needs to without driver intervention. Fuel economy benefits range from 1% to 3%, depending on other vehicle specifications and operating conditions.
Driver Recruitment & Retention
Many driver recruits have no experience operating vehicles with manual transmissions. Specifying trucks with automated manual transmissions enlarges the driver pool, which is a key advantage given the current driver shortage. Since these transmissions make the trucks easier to drive, drivers will be less tired at the end of the day, which should help fleets with driver retention.
Lower Driver Training Costs
Driver training time will be shortened because operating an automated manual transmission is less complex than operating a manual transmission.
Less Variability in Fuel Economy
AMTs decrease the variability in the fuel economy of trucks or drivers in a fleet, compared to the variability in fleets using manual transmission. Electronically controlled transmissions make poor drivers much better, average drivers better and good drivers slightly better.
Driver Performance & Safety
Electronically controlled transmissions improve driver safety because they allow the driver to concentrate on the road ahead rather than having to worry about shifting. The driver can keep both hands on the wheel.
Electronically controlled engines, transmissions, and other powertrain components offer the opportunity for improved and fine-tuned performance for various duty cycles and terrains.
Higher Initial Costs
Vehicles specified with automated manual transmissions can cost as much as $3,000 to $5,000 more than similar vehicles with manual transmissions.
While there is not a great deal of data on resale value as many of the trucks with automated manual transmissions have not made it to the secondary market, fleets are confident that trucks equipped with automated manuals will not take a hit at resale time. Currently, automated manuals can bring $1,000-$3,000 less on the resale market, however most fleets have not yet traded their trucks equipped with automated manuals. Expectations are that residual values will be on a par with trucks equipped with manual transmissions.
Electronically controlled transmissions have more moving parts and require software to operate. As a result, fleets expect a small increase in maintenance cost.
To get the most from electronically controlled transmissions, care needs to be taken in the specification of the engine, transmission, axle, tires, and road speed combination of the entire vehicle.
Common Fleet Strategies
- Fleets are increasingly investing in electronically controlled transmission, especially automated manual transmissions.
- Many fleets have said that going forward all of their vehicles will be spec’ed with electronically controlled transmissions.
- Fleets have indicated these transmissions improve fuel economy but also help with driver recruitment and retention efforts.
- In their recruiting efforts, many fleets tout the fact that their trucks have automated manual transmissions.
- Fleet owners believe spec’ing electronically controlled transmissions makes them more attractive to younger drivers who have no experience driving standard transmissions.
- In addition, fleets have reported that experienced drivers who may have been reluctant to try an automated manual transmission, end up having a positive driving experience and do not want to return to driving trucks with standard transmissions.
- While there is not a great deal of data on resale value as many of the trucks with automated manual transmissions have not made it to the secondary market, fleets are confident that trucks equipped with automated manuals will not take a hit at resale time.
What Fleets Are Saying
Executives from 19 large fleets were personally interviewed to find out about their experience with electronically controlled transmissions.
- All of the fleets had experience with automated manual transmissions, but very few with automatics.
- The fleets unanimously said that while at first their drivers did not like the automated manual transmissions, they later agreed that the technology has a positive impact on their work life.
- Fleets were unanimous in the fact that they would try automated manual transmissions in the future. Many mentioned that automated manual transmissions are the choice for the future.
Michelin Fleet Forum
In conjunction with Michelin, the study team surveyed 200+ members of Michelin’s Fleet Forum about their opinions of electronically controlled transmissions.
- According to one survey respondent, “[They provide] better efficiency and drivers actually like them better after they get used to them.”
- Another survey respondent said, “With the new engines, automated manual transmissions improve mpg: in some cases up to 4% or better.”
- “I like the idea of assisting newer and older drivers by removing the manual gearbox and clutch pedal,” said one survey respondent. “Additionally, if the claims of increased fuel mileage are correct, it’s worth investigating, since it would be easier to buy this equipment than try to force drivers to modify their driving habits.”
The study team developed several tools to help fleets in making their decision about electronically controlled transmissions. The Confidence Matrix is used to inform fleets of the study team’s confidence in the technology being studied vs. the payback a fleet should expect to receive from the technology. The Comparison Chart shows features of the various electronically controlled transmissions currently on the market.
After 25 years of development globally, electronically controlled transmissions are:
- Are ready for prime time — These transmissions are proving to be reliable and adoption rates validate end user trust in their performance and durability.
- Offer a good business case for adoption — They deliver fuel savings of 1-3%, have low operating costs and an acceptable initial purchase price.
- Are an enabler of additional benefits — They allow further improvements in fuel economy, safety and operational efficiency especially as manufacturers combine highly integrated components into effective powertrain combinations.