Automated Manual Transmissions

Trucking Efficiency 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.

Benefits

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.

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.

Driver training time will be shortened because operating an automated manual transmission is less complex than operating a manual transmission.

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.

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.

Challenges

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.

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.

Electronically Controlled Transmissions

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 OTHERS ARE SAYING

Decision-Making Tools

The study team developed several tools to help fleets in making their decision about electronically controlled transmissions.

  • The Comparison Chart shows features of the various electronically controlled transmissions currently on the market.
  • The Payback Calculator is an incremental analysis tool designed to compare two or more of the situations and/or equipment selections available to a fleet, using the fleet’s own data or their own best estimates.
  • 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.

Manufacturers

CONCLUSIONS

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.