The Cummins ISX 15 SmartAdvantage powertrain.

The Cummins ISX 15 SmartAdvantage powertrain.

If there was an unspoken theme to this year's Mid-America Trucking Show, it was probably the focus on integrated drivetrains. And Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, had some interesting things to say about automated transmissions in general.

The seemingly popular SmartAdvantage integrated powertrain announced last year by Cummins and Eaton joins an ISX15 engine with the Fuller Advantage automated 10-speed transmission, and now there's a variant in Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks that mates that gearbox with the Paccar MX-13 engine. Peterbilt calls it the Apex, offering it in the aerodynamic Model 579 tractor, while Kenworth seems not to have coined a name.

As with other such combinations, the 12.9-liter MX-13 and the 10-speed Fuller share critical data including torque, operating gear, and other vehicle performance metrics.

The transmission senses the load demand on the engine and selects the best shift points to match vehicle weight, road grade, engine torque, and throttle position. It also has unique control logic and a small-step gear ratio that enables downspeeding in top gear, overdrive, while allowing a quick down-shift to direct-drive 9th gear required when pulling a grade.

The MX-13 Engine is available with 380 to 500 horsepower and up to 1850 pounds-feet of torque.

It was also announced that the Cummins/Eaton combination is now available in all Volvo VNL models. It's said to enhance the time spent in the diesel’s most efficient speed zone to reduce fuel consumption -- by anywhere from 3% to 6%, says Eaton. Fewer than 10% of Volvo trucks are spec'd, however, with non-Volvo engines.

A little ironically, Volvo spent some time in its press conference extolling the virtues of its own vertically integrated powertrains: the XE13 introduced in 2011, the XE 16 launched in 2012, and now the XE11 hatched this past February. All three are mated with the company's own I-Shift gearbox.

Volvo says the XE11 is its most efficient combination, a package combining the 11-liter D11 engine, Volvo I-Shift overdrive transmission with a 0.78:1 ratio, axle ratios of 2.64 to 2.80, and proprietary software that facilitates seamless communication between the various components.

ONE OF THE BITS OF SCUTTLEBUTT I heard at the show suggests that ZF, the German maker of transmissions and clutches and all manner of other drivetrain products, might well join the integration game here in North America.

ZF is already very prominent here actually, just not in the heavy-duty world, but I have reason to think that could change in the not-too-distant future. The company builds a lot of light-duty transmissions here at its year-old plant in Gray Court, S.C., mostly the 8-speed automatic for the RAM 1500 that was new in 2013.

Will we see the ZF AS-Tronic transmission in the North American market?

Will we see the ZF AS-Tronic transmission in the North American market?

It's a guess, though a fairly educated one, but I'm betting we'll soon see the well proven ZF AS-Tronic heavy-duty transmission mated with the Paccar MX-13 for use in North American Peterbilts and Kenworths some time soon.

The automated mechanical transmission has in fact been here for several years in both 10- and 12-speed versions for use in motor coaches. And it's a favored option in DAF trucks in Europe behind an MX-13, meaning at least some of the 'integration' work has already been done. Paccar, of course, owns DAF.

ZF actually has a newer automated transmission on offer, the TraXon, marked by application diversity with less OEM engineering effort. It's a single basic transmission that can be customized individually for specific applications by way of optional modules.
WILL NORTH AMERICA BE DOMINATED by these two-pedal transmissions? Yes, according to Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America. Speaking at a media roundtable during the Mid-America show, he said the German-built Detroit DT12 transmission has been overwhelmingly well received by the market here.

"It's been beyond all expectations," Daum said. "This thing hit the market mature."

Introduced in North America just 10 months ago but well established in Europe, it already represents some 30% of the Freightliner build. Orders for the DT12 AMT are presently at "17,000 and counting," which is about double what the company expected at this stage.

And the transmission's share will go higher, Daum is convinced, to reach 90% of Freightliner's build within the next four years.

Capacity constraints are holding back the DT12 on these shores, largely as a result of supplier challenges further back in the manufacturing trail. The transmission is still being built in the Daimler plant in Gaggenau, Germany, and then shipped here, often by expensive air freight. That's set to change in mid-year 2015 when manufacturing for North America will be launched in the Detroit plant in Michigan.

This commentary originally appeared in The Lockwood Report, a biweekly e-newsletter from our partners at Canada's Today's Trucking.