Automated Transmissions Shift Into High Gear

A notable shift in the types of transmissions used in fleets’ Class 8 trucks has occurred over the past five years. Manual transmissions reigned as king among fleets and seasoned truck drivers for decades, but they now represent a minority that is rapidly shrinking.

NFI recently converted nearly its entire 2,600-vehicle fleet to automated manual transmissions. “We started the transition at end , and then made it standard in our fleet,” said Bill Bliem, NFI senior vice president of fleet services. “We probably have less than 10 [manuals] now.”

based NFI ranks No. 19 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

The trend toward AMTs is evident throughout the industry, and market penetration is upward of 80%, according to representatives from Eaton Cummins, an AMT manufacturer. was formed in April as a 50-50 joint venture between Eaton Corp. and engine maker Inc. to produce automated transmissions for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Volvo Trucks North Americareports an AMT share of about 93% for all of the transmissions it manufactures. Daimler Trucks North Americaintroduced the Detroit DT12 AMT in and currently reports a 90% adoption rate among its Freightliner Cascadia truck models.

The transition has occurred quickly, said , executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. Ipublished a confidence report predicting swift adoption of AMTs, and that phenomenon occurred within a year.

“Three years ago, it went over the tipping point where AMTs were only about 30% of the market, then they jumped to about 70% almost in one year,” Roeth said. “I was nervous about us forecasting that big jump, but we predicted it.”

That’s around the time Ozark Motor Lines expanded its use of AMTs. It put five units into service for testing in December , purchased a nd started to convert the entire fleet by March . This year, the company will come close to finishing the process.

“I wish we had started converting the fleet a little sooner,” said Glen McDonald, director of maintenance at Ozark. “We really like them.”

NACFE estimates fleets experience 1-3% fuel economy gains with AMTs compared with manual transmissions. Automated manuals mimic the practices of the best manual drivers, thus evening out performance across a fleet and eliminating less-efficient shifting.

AMTs took a while to catch on but now have become the norm because of their advantages in the over-the-road tractor market, Roeth said. Fleets and manufacturers report that AMTs officially have replaced manual as the standard transmission option.

In addition, across the board, those in the industry cite driver recruiting and retention as a key benefit of converting from manual transmissions to AMTs, an especially important factor amid a driver shortage.

Younger drivers, in particular, are drawn to AMTs because they have less experience with manual transmissions when they enter the industry due to the prevalence of automatic transmissions in personal vehicles.

Even truck driving schools are embracing the shift.

“A lot of the schools are training on automated transmissions instead of manuals now,” said Steve Sichterman,vice president of client services forConversion Interactive Agency. “They’re hiring drivers that actually have automatic transmission-only endorsements on their CDLs.”

Read Previous

Automatic Truck TransmissionTechnology

Read Next

7 Defensive Driving Tips