Automated manual transmissions rule the roost at U.S. Xpress today. During an event in early November to the fleet’s headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, senior vice president of maintenance Gerald “Gerry” Mead noted that out of some 7,000 U.S. Xpress trucks running today, he’s down to just 16 “legacy” models still equipped with manual transmissions.
“Our last tractor buy was 100% AMTs,” Mead explained. “And at this point, we just can’t see a valid reason to spec a manual transmission – or even an application that would absolutely demand one.”
Mead noted that early versions of the latest-generation of AMTs suffered through some relatively minor teething problems (usually centered on the shifter). Overall, however, he said the integration into U.S. Xpress’ fleet has been mostly painless, with the shift toward nearly 100% AMT specs happening far faster than he imagined it would a few years back.
U.S. Xpress specs its AMTs with some unique (and secret) algorithms to meet the fleet’s performance and efficiency requirements. While the units have delivered in a big way on fuel economy, they’ve paid off in other ways as well.
“The drivers love them, so they help with recruiting and retention,” Mead said. “And our maintenance costs are way down. Everyone talks about no longer replacing clutches and greater brake life. And we’re seeing those things, too. But we’re also seeing reduced overall maintenance costs and greater overall vehicle durability because AMTs don’t shake, rattle and vibrate the truck as much when they get going. And reduced vibration is always a good thing from a maintenance point of view.”
Mead noted that manual transmissions are increasingly becoming the “brains” of a truck, coordinating and controlling almost every driving and safety system on the vehicle. “We’re in a new age of trucking,” he said. “And I think soon, fleets that aren’t running AMTs just won’t be able to compete with fleets that are.”