National truckload carrier Schneider recently passed the halfway mark in its fleet-wide implementation of automated transmission trucks, replacing trucks with manual transmissions.
The company said doing so has also transformed drivers it brings into its ranks, with the influx of new, easier-to-operate tractors opening the door for those considering a career in truck driving.
"We have been testing various versions of automated transmission tractors since 2007, so we had a lot of experience behind us when we made the decision in 2015 to start transforming the fleet," said Rob Reich, Schneider's vice president of equipment, maintenance and driver recruiting.
"Ever since then, we have been very impressed with the dependability of these tractors," he noted. "In fact, we've had fewer maintenance issues with them than we've seen with the manual-transmission tractors, which is not what we expected. We're extremely pleased with the performance of these vehicles — and more importantly, so are drivers."
Schneider is now spec'ing all new tractors it purchases with an automated transmission. The company said it expects to complete implementation across its entire fleet in 2019.
For new drivers who have been trained only on automated transmissions, Schneider noted it can guarantee they will be assigned to a tractor equipped with one. The company said it is also "making every effort to accommodate the many manual-trained drivers who prefer automated transmissions."
Longtime Schneider driver Jim Czachor was part of an initial pilot test of the automated transmissions. "At first, I was wondering what I got myself into, so I asked my dispatcher, 'If I absolutely can't stand this, can I have my 10-speed manual back?' Well, long story short, there's no way I'd ever go back to a manual transmission," Czachor said.
Fellow Schneider driver Pam Taylor agreed. "I learned how to drive on a manual at a truck driving school, but I've been driving an automated [transmission] since shortly after joining Schneider. Once I got in it, I was in love with it, and I prefer it over a manual any day!" she contended. "It's easier to drive, and I also feel safer behind the wheel because it allows me to keep my focus on the road. I don't have to shift down if something jumps out in front of me."