Powertrain Photo: Sean Kilcarr/American Trucker

Is the manual transmission going extinct in trucking?

No, say OEMs, but its appeal is dwindling as AMTs and fully-automatic gearboxes grow in capability and popularity.

With the rise in popularity of automated manual transmissions (AMTs) and fully-automatic gearboxes like Allison Transmission’s TC10, one might think that the days of the tried-and-true manual shifter are number. However, according to truck manufacturers and suppliers, that is just not the case.

“Manual transmissions continue to be a very reliable and cost effective means for companies and professional drivers,” Shane Groner, director of field business development for the Eaton Vehicle Group, explained to American Trucker.
“Manual transmissions currently continue to make up approximately 50% of the total North America Class 8 market,” he said. “While that number will decline over time due to fleets transitioning to automation to enable a larger driver pool population, it is not expected that automated transmissions will fully displace manual transmissions in the foreseeable future.”

While there is a “noticeable movement” towards more use of AMTs and fully-automatic gearboxes, Kelly Gedert, director of product marketing for Freightliner and Detroit components, said manuals will “continue to be offered” as they are demanded based on customer preference and type of application.

“In 2017, for example, our Detroit DT12 AMT was ordered on approximately 70% of all combined Freightliner Cascadia and Western Star 5700XE on-highway models, but manuals were still ordered on 20% to 25% of all transmissions sold in all Freightliner and Western Star models last year,” Gedert said.

“The use of manuals is typically dictated more by customer/driver preference than by application,” Gedert added. “The ever-increasing availability and technical coverage of AMTs and automatics, such as the release of the rear-mount PTO on the Detroit DT12, is expanding coverage for many additional applications.”

John Moore, product marketing manager–powertrain for Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA), echoes that outlook where manuals are concerned.

“Manual transmissions are not a thing of the past but face ever-mounting pressure from AMTs and full automatics as enhancements are made to these transmissions that allow them to operate in areas that were restricted in the past,” he explained.

“For example, our 13- and 14-speed I-Shift with crawler gears was developed to allow it to be used in applications that required a deep reduction start gear for startability on soft ground or sand, or applications that have to back up at a crawl speed to connect to an expensive trailer without damaging it,” Moore said.

“Manuals were preferred here in the past because the driver could use the clutch to slowly engage the driveline – something AMTs could only dream about until now,” he stressed.

Still, Moore thinks it will be “quite some time” before manual transmissions are completely replaced by AMTs and fully-automatic gearboxes simply because of customer preference.

“Despite its prevalence in 90% percent of all trucks we build, not everyone has bought into the AMT revolution for various reasons,” he noted. “Some drivers just like to shift.”

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