Shifting Into Fuel Savings

June 6, 2016

Recently I’ve had the chance to ride and drive a bunch of Class 8 over-the-road trucks equipped with electronically controlled transmissions — both automated manuals and fully automatics. I spent time in Indianapolis at Allison’s test track and in Marshall, MI at Eaton’s proving grounds.

One thing I can tell you is we have come a long way from the industry thinking “We don’t need to automatically shift highway transmissions” to a point where there is no shifting at all.  This becomes increasingly important as we try to attract millennials to the industry because unlike many of us, these kids did not learn how to drive cars with manual transmissions.  Automatics are all they know and some are even choosing to delay or not even get a driver’s license.

In addition, once we get millennials into trucks, automated manuals do a great job of reducing shifting effort because there is no reaching for the stick and clutch engagement is effortless, so driving them will be less taxing physically.

Obviously automatics with their power shifting take things a step further with quicker launch and acceleration. This is particularly helpful for getting through those short traffic lights in cities.

Frost & Sullivan was impressed enough with Allison’s fully automated TC10 that it awarded the company the 2016 Best Practices Award for North American Customer Value Leadership.  At this point, the TC10 is the only fully automatic transmission for the Class 8 over the road market. “While this segment has traditionally been dominated by manual transmissions, the TC10 offers definitive advantages related to fuel economy and drivability that will continue to spur adoption and long-term growth,” said Silpa Paul, Frost & Sullivan’s senior research analyst. But don’t discount the automated manuals as they have offer similar advantages.

Both automated manual and full automatic transmissions also help with a downsped truck. This truly results in car-like performance with large fuel economy gains.  One of the other things I noticed about these transmissions is how quiet they are. My drivers/riders and I were able to carry on a deep conversation while in these trucks. I am betting drivers are going to love the reduced noise level.

I would like to think that by now most fleet owners have at least tried an electronically controlled transmission equipped truck or two - Tractor OEs tell us they are now at 50-70% penetration of them.  If you haven’t, you should start right now to consider an automated manual or fully automatic transmission for your fleet for their fuel efficiency and for the boost they will give your driver attraction and retention efforts.

Still not convinced? Check out the findings in our Confidence Report on automated manual transmissions and fully automatic transmissions. Hear what other fleets that have tried them have to say and then go ahead and spec your next order with one or the other. I guarantee you won’t be sorry.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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