Automatic and automated manual transmissions save fuel, enhance safety, and can widen the pool of potential drivers and help alleviate a growing industry shortage, says a report just released by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and the Carbon War Room.

The report verifies what manufacturers and many users have been saying about modern self-shifting gearboxes for some time.

Fuel savings range from 1% to 3%, the report’s executive summary says. And because the transmissions are easy to use, inexperienced drivers can be recruited and put to work without have to learn to shift manual transmissions. Safety is better because attention can be paid to guiding a truck through traffic and not to shifting gears.

For ease of terminology, the study uses “electronically controlled” to describe both automated manual and torque-converter automatic transmissions. It considered automated products from four manufacturers and an on-road automatic from one builder.

Conclusions were based on interviews or surveys of fleet managers and truck builder representatives. “In total, 59 fleets participated in that survey, of which 29 had first-hand knowledge with electronically controlled transmissions,” the report summary said. 

“I think we'll look at 2014/2015 as the tipping point when the new norm is automated manuals,” said Mike Roeth of NACFE, who led the study.

Builders recently said that about 30% of new Class 8 trucks now get automated transmissions, and the percentage is growing. One heavy truck builder has said the penetration for its automated transmission is above 70% and at a sister company it’s above 50%.

A downside to automated and automatic products is greater complexity and new maintenance requirements. And there’s been a historical loss of residual value because second owners are suspicious of the products, the report stated. But trucks purchased now with automated and automatic transmissions are likely to command a premium by the time they’re sold.

The full Confidence Report is available from NACFE at www.truckingefficiency.org. It is the fourth report on modern truck components issued by NACFE, a research organization funded by manufacturers, and the Carbon War Room, an ecology minded group of business leaders. 

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