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Transmissions in transition

Lucas Deal April 25, 2013

It’s no secret truck drivers like shifting gears. There are songs about the enjoyment one can get from shifting gears on the open road.

But just because drivers like stepping on a clutch and operating a manual transmission doesn’t mean it’s the only way to drive.

In fact, over the last several years the heavy-duty market has seen a steady growth in the popularity and use of fully automatic and automated manual transmissions. Both systems work independently, up and downshifting on their own without the assistance of a driver or clutch pedal.

This frees a driver from the responsibility of constant shifting, allowing them to focus on other areas of driving.

Combine that with potential safety and fuel economy benefits and it’s no surprise that fleets are making a point to add these transmissions to their trucks.

That means you should be trying to sell them.

“I think people are slowly moving away from the clutch pedal as they see how well these new options work,” says Ed Saxman, product marketing manager at Volvo Trucks. In 2012, nearly 60 percent of Volvo-powered vehicles built featured an I-Shift, the company’s automated transmission.

The componentry in an automated manual transmission is not that different than a manual transmission, says Shane Groner, manager of development and product planning, North America at Eaton. It’s how the two systems operate where automated benefits are noticeable, he says.

Both manual and automated manual transmissions have similar gears and operate using a disconnect clutch, the latter transmission also is equipped with an electronic shift actuator and engine control unit (ECU), Groner says. These additional components monitor the transmission’s performance, sense when shifting is necessary and perform those shifts automatically without any driver input.

Jim Wanaselja, vice president of North American marketing, sales and service at Allison Transmission, says fully automatic transmissions operate by using a torque converter instead of a disconnect clutch. He says this allows the transmission to shift pausing for a clutch operation, delivering “uninterrupted, continuous power to the wheels during gear shifts.”

Both systems ensure a transmission is shifted at the exact correct moment, which helps extend the life of the transmission and improves the truck’s fuel economy.

That can be a big selling point for your sales staff.

“The number one thing now when you talk to fleets is fuel economy,” Groner says. “That’s the leading decision maker and number one cost to fleets by far.”

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