The North American Council for Freight Efficiency estimates that 90% of trucks will use automated manual transmissions (AMTs) by 2027 as original equipment manufacturers work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet federal standards. AMTs provide a range of benefits to fleets, and the technology has become table stakes for many fleets.
Mike Hasinec, former vice president of maintenance for Penske Truck Leasing, said that over the past few years, he has seen close to a 95% or greater take rate for AMTs on Class 8 vehicles with Penske customers. “We made AMTs standard on our tractor rental fleet a few years ago," he said.
Mike Roeth, executive director for NACFE, said AMTs have won nearly everywhere. “Engines have become super smart and to put a 'dumb' transmission behind it is silly," he said.
With AMTs, the fleet's overall average fuel economy is improved. “It brings your poorest performers up to the middle of the pack so to speak, which improves the fleet's overall average," Hasinec said.
AMTs enable downspeeding, as rear axle ratios under about 2.7 require too many shifts for a manual to manage. However, with an AMT it is virtually unnoticeable, Roeth said. “They also help with safety equipment, advanced cruise control methodologies, etc.," he explained.
AMTs offer several maintenance benefits. Compared to manuals, the clutch life is longer and gear damage is mostly eliminated as electronics make the shift versus the driver. “Also, most AMTs can provide torque limiting, which can reduce damage to the transmission, rear axles and drive shafts," Hasinec said. “The drive shaft is typically the weakest link so it would be the most prone to damage if torque was not controlled."
Driver attraction and retention are one of the greatest benefits of AMTs. “New drivers won't shift trucks. Many younger potential truck drivers don't even drive. That is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the percentage of 16- to 25-year-olds that don't even have a car driver's license has increased substantially," Roeth said.
AMTs provide greater ease of use and in some cases, Roeth said, NACFE has even seen drivers who want full automatics that have power shifting. That means there is no significant reduction in RPM to make the shift. “This makes for a super smooth and productive launch for a traffic light or out onto the road," he said.
Hasinec said AMTs greatly reduce driver training time as proper shifting takes time to train and teach. Driver recruiting and retention also improve due to less driver fatigue, especially in local and regional operations with a lot of stop and go and various speed limits.
“Operations like this require a lot of shifting with manual transmissions. Safety is also increased as drivers can focus more on driving, less on shifting and can have two hands on the steering wheel at all times," Hasinec said.
It is critical to set up the parameters correctly when ordering the vehicle in order for a fleet to achieve their goals as far as the operation and fuel economy, Hasinec said. “Things like kick down, manual shifting in select gears, eco coast, etc., all need to be considered when spec'ing the vehicle," he explained.
Roeth said the resale value of manual trucks has suffered. “Companies just don't want them," he said.
One of the challenges with AMTs has been the cost, but Roeth said scale has helped decrease the price difference.