Fleets should expect to see improved fuel economy from automatic transmissions, which have full power shifts and a torque converter to seamlessly transition between gears. They are most valuable in city driving where a significant amount of shifting is required.
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.
Although it is too early to predict the payback for automatic transmissions, their business case is expected to be strong over time.
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.