Mack Trucks is preparing to begin full production of its vocationally-focused mDrive HD automated manual transmission (AMT) late this month and expects it will experience a take-rate among vocational customers similar to what the OEM is experiencing with the mDrive in its highway segment.
Introduced back in January, the mDrive HD – with the “HD” standing for “heavy duty” – is now the standard transmission on all Mack Granite models and is an option for its heavy-haul Titan vocational tractor as well.
At a ride and drive event held for journalists at the Mack Customer Center (MCC) in Allentown, PA, Curtis Dorwart – Mack’s vocational product marketing manager – noted that the “regular” mDrive AMT is experiencing a 50% take-rate among the OEM’s highway customers, in part as the OEM made the mDrive the standard transmission on its Pinnacle highway tractor last October.
[More photos of the ride and drive event can be viewed by clicking here.]
“We expected similar results on the vocational side; we’re pretty optimistic about,” Dorwart told Fleet Owner, adding that the mDrive HD (seen at right) is designed to meet about 80% of vocational truck transmission needs. “We see [the mDrive HD] as a major enhancement to our product offerings.”
Yet Dorwart was quick to point out that Mack still plans to keep offering manual and full automatic transmissions with its vocational trucks going forward. “They still have a place in our portfolio, especially automatic transmissions,” he said. “Because an AMT can’t do 100% of what an automatic can do.”
That being said, though, Stuart “Stu” Russoli – Mack’s construction segment manager – stressed that the mDrive HD (available in overdrive and direct drive versions) offers vocational truck owners several key advantages versus fully automatic transmissions; primarily because the mDrive HD AMT costs “significantly less” than a comparable fully-automatic gearbox – though he remained mum on an exact dollar figure – and is lighter by 237 lbs.
The mDrive HD is so much lighter despite the addition of reinforced gears and synchronizers because of its single-axle countershaft design, Russoli noted.
Even though it also features extra gears to meet vocational needs – 12 forward and two reverse – that single countershaft represents a significant weight savings versus other AMTs, fully-automatic, and even manual transmissions, which typically sport two- and three countershaft designs, he said.
Dorwart added that the mDrive HD also uses a transmission-mounted oil cooler that requires a third less oil than comparable AMTs, which helps reduce maintenance costs.
Compared to Mack’s Maxitorque manual gearbox – which is of the three countershaft variety – Russoli noted that while the mDrive HD costs “a little more,” vocational operators should recover that cost difference from improved fuel savings and reduced maintenance relatively quickly.
Journalists attending the ride and drive tested trucks equipped with different versions of the mDrive HD AMT – differences centered on the software packages controlling the automated gearbox.
The three main software configurations available for the mDrive HD include: “Enhanced Construction” provides focused on/off-road capability while giving a driver more control via manual and performance mode control options; “EZ Shift” for delivering smoother shifts for sensitive payloads like livestock or bulk liquids; and “Heavy Haul” for vocational operators pulling big loads.
Three extra features can be included in mDrive HD AMT packages as well. They include:
- Grade Gripper: Working with the truck’s antilock braking system (ABS), this function allows the vehicle to momentarily hold a hill for up to 3 seconds, giving the driver time to move their foot from the brake to the accelerator pedal without rolling backward.
- Rock Free: Should the vehicle become stuck, this feature allows the driver to rock the truck back and forth simply by pumping the accelerator.
- Power Launch: This allows the operator to rev the engine up to 1,300 rpms before engaging the transmission, providing a quick ‘boost” to help get unstuck from mud, deep gravel, etc.
The mDrive HD is controlled through a dash-mounted shift pad by selecting drive, neutral or reverse, with optional manual and performance modes controlled on the pad via push-button operation to hold a gear, downshift or upshift.
Dorwart said the appeal of the mDrive HD in the vocational space will center on several key areas.
“The attractive price coupled with the simplicity of transmission operation will be the main attraction,” he explained to Fleet Owner. “Next will be the weight savings, which allows for more paying payload, with the ability for vocational drivers to get better and more consistent fuel economy.”
The fact that the mDrive HD can be serviced by Mack Truck dealers –allowing for complete vehicle service “all under one roof” in Dorwart’s words – is another big factor in the AMT’s attractiveness to vocational fleets, he said.
“Not having to go to a third-party service provider for the transmission is a big part in the serviceability attractiveness,” Dorwart added. “Also, the mDrive HD will also be monitored via our GuardDog Connect system, allowing for better prognostic maintenance.”
Finally, the attractiveness of a “shift-free” truck cab in terms of reducing driver fatigue and improving recruiting and retention efforts can’t be overlooked, he pointed out.
“Because a happy driver is a good driver,” Dorwart stressed.