Automated Mechanical Transmissions Gaining Steadily
One of the primary transmissions suppliers for commercial trucks is Eaton. The Class 8 sector is completely dominated by Eaton transmissions, which also maintain a powerful presence in Classes 6 and 7. Still, as the transmissions market continues to slowly shift, other names have been slowly gaining ground. Mack, for instance, has a line of manual gearboxes, although it also markets Eaton transmissions with a few of its models.
Besides holding a viselike grip on the manual transmissions market as used in the fleets of most trucking companies, Eaton also acts as the kingpin of another steadily growing transmissions market in the trucking world – the market for automated mechanical transmissions. As far as tractors and heavy trucks go, about 80 percent of those with truck driving jobs still prefer manual transmissions. Manual transmissions are preferred by those with heavy truck driving jobs due to their ease of use, low price, and amazing durability.
About 60 percent of the manual transmissions used by heavy trucks are ten-speeds. About a fifth is composed of 13- or 18-speeds, which are built for performance and use a lot of very low gears. The rest, or about 20 percent, are automated mechanical transmissions.
The Steady Growth Spurt of Automated Mechanical Transmissions
Every year, more and more heavy trucks and tractors used automated manual transmissions. The rate of growth for AMTs in the national trucking market has been a steady two to three percent for the past ten years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. At the current rate of growth, in 2014, automated manual transmissions will have about a third of the Class 8 market.
Although they are only barely cheaper than completely automatic transmissions, AMTs offer much better fuel economy. Instead of hydraulic torque converters, power is transmitted through metal gears. Not satisfied with having the best of only one world, AMTs also shift better than manuals and choose gears better than most novice drivers.
The AMTs of today suffer from very few electronic and engineering problems. Although they were once known for these, time and ongoing ingenuity have ironed out most of the bugs. Trucking companies can now enjoy expanded programming modes in the transmissions of their trucks as well as much better matches between engines and transmissions controls.
Volvo is one company that seems to have gotten its AMTs right from the beginning. Introduced to the United States ten years ago, the Volvo I-Shift has been snapping up more of the market every year. About half of all heavy Volvo trucks sold are equipped with the I-Shift AMT.
Allison offers one of the few completely automatic transmissions systems for heavy trucks. Allison automatics are used by only a sliver of the heavy truck market, and most of that sliver is composed of garbage collection trucks. Allison also has plans to introduce a ten-speed automatic box with a torque converter included sometime around autumn of this year.
Daimler and Mercedes Benz
Daimler is working hand in hand with Mercedes to adapt one of the heavier Mercedes automated transmissions for use in heavy trucks. This model will be called the Detroit. This will be Daimler’s first baby step away from Eaton products, which it used heavily during its early years as a company. Daimler has also begun to install AMTs in many of its medium-duty trucks, which previously used fully automatic transmissions.