Every year for the last two or three centuries (or so it seems), March has meant a trip to Louisville, Ky., and the Mid-America Trucking Show. And every year the show produces a dominant theme, albeit unwritten, in the collection of new products introduced there.  

If there was such a theme to MATS 2014, it was probably the focus on engine and transmission integration. The SmartAdvantage integrated powertrain announced last year by Cummins and Eaton, which joins an ISX15 engine with the Fuller Advantage automated 10-speed, has spawned others. With more to come, I think.

There’s now a variant on the integration idea in Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks, one that mates that Fuller gearbox with the Paccar MX-13 engine. Pete calls it the Apex, offering it in the aerodynamic Model 579 tractor, while Kenworth seems not to have coined a name.
It’s said to allow a weight saving of 80 pounds and as much as 4% better fuel economy versus previous drivetrains. It’s available for order now.

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 performance metrics.

The transmission senses the load demand on the engine and selects the best shift points to match weight, road grade, engine torque and throttle position.

The original SmartAdvantage powertrain idea is also being expanded to include the Cummins ISX12 diesel engine and new ISX15 applications up to 110,000 pounds GVW.

The Cummins/Eaton combination is now available in all Volvo VNL models as well, based on a Cummins ISX15, though more than 90% of Volvo trucks are ordered with the company’s own D11, D13, or D16 engines. 

And one more: a Cummins/Eaton integrated powertrain mating the ISX12 G natural gas engine with the UltraShift Plus automated transmission will be available by mid-2014.

I also have an idea that ZF, the German maker of transmissions and clutches and all manner of other drivetrain and chassis products, might well join this “virtual” integration game in North America. The company is already very prominent here, building a lot of light-duty transmissions at its year-old plant in South Carolina, mostly an 8-speed automatic for the Ram 1500.

I’m betting we’ll soon see ZF’s well-proven AS-Tronic heavy-duty transmission mated with the Paccar MX-13 for use in Peterbilts and Kenworths. It’s been here for several years in motor coach use. And it’s a favored option in Europe’s DAF trucks 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, a unique modular gearbox that may well be the one we see over here.

Will North America be dominated by such two-pedal transmissions? Yes, according to Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America. Speaking to the press at the show, he said the German-built Detroit DT12 transmission has been overwhelmingly well received by the market here.
Introduced here just 10 months ago, 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.

Capacity constraints are holding it back, largely a result of supplier challenges further back in the manufacturing trail. The transmission is still being built in the Daimler plant in Gaggenau, Germany. That’s set to change next year when manufacturing for North America will be launched in the Detroit plant.

The transmission’s share will go higher, Daum later told me, to reach 90% of Freightliner’s build within the next four years.

I wouldn’t argue the point.