Automated truck gearboxes look to widen appeal

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Fully-automatic gearboxes can be a viable alternative to automated manual transmissions in trucks on short-haul urban and inter-urban delivery work.

So says Manlio Alvaro, marketing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at global auto gearbox giant Allison Transmission.

He cites as an example the company’s 10-speed TC10 box, currently available in the USA and likely to arrive on this side of the Atlantic. He said: “It can achieve an average fuel economy improvement of around 5% compared with a manual or automated manual transmission and we’re in discussions about applications for it with a number of European truck manufacturers.”

DAF could be an early adopter – US parent company Paccar announced in April that it would soon be offering TC10 in the USA in selected Kenworth and Peterbilt models.

A transmission such as TC10 could perform to its best advantage in Britain in a truck deployed on what Alvaro refers to as “commuter work” – runs between big cities not far from one another that involve motorways and dual carriageways clogged with traffic, and finishing with a low speed crawl around an industrial estate.

The drawback of automatic boxes where many truck fleets are concerned is the typical price premium of between 10% and 15%. With TC10 that would be offset by improved fuel economy, assuming the claims made for it are borne out in practice. But Alvaro makes no such claim for transmissions such as Allison’s 3000 and 4000 Series, which are already available in Europe as part of the company’s varied range.

What he does contend however, is that their economy can match that of a manual or automated manual box on a comparable duty cycle. He adds that any premium they attract is offset by their ability to provide greater vehicle and driver productivity. That is because of the way in which an auto box multiplies the torque immediately available by a factor of two when a truck pulls away from rest.

He told Commercial Fleet: “We’re talking about up to 35% better acceleration which means your average journey speed can be as much as 14% higher depending on your duty cycle.”

That could equate to an increase in deliveries, for example, as well as the elimination of clutch wear and the need to change a clutch periodically, with all the associated costs and downtime. Robotised manual transmissions still have conventional clutches although they do not suffer the abuses often meted out to them by manual boxes.

The TC10 can cope with power inputs of up to 600hp and torque inputs of up to 2,305Nm. By contrast, the 3000 can cope with no more than 336hp/1,695Nm while the 4000 is limited to 485hp/2,644Nm.

Both are six-speed boxes although a seventh gear is available on the 4000 Series as an option. All three are fitted with torque converters but the TC10 relies on twin counter-shafts rather than planetary gears.

While stressing the advantages of having lots of torque instantly available, Allison is aware it needs to be controlled on grounds of fuel economy and road safety but without inhibiting productivity. As a consequence, it has developed a series of transmission management packages under the FuelSense, FuelSense Plus and FuelSense Max banners, with the latter featuring Acceleration Rate Management.

All three variations of FuelSense are designed to ensure the box’s gear-changing schedule matches the type of work the truck is on, be it running lightly-laden through flat countryside or tackling hills fully-freighted. As a consequence it should achieve the right balance of economy and performance.

Allison is attempting to widen the appeal of its transmissions beyond their current UK use in bin wagons, buses, and specialised applications that require trucks to stop and start constantly and move very slowly. Romaquip, for example, has specified 2,500 boxes in 160 DAF LF180 12-tonners used on kerbside refuse collection and recycling work: a typical current application.

Go back thirty years and many truck operators and drivers had deep reservations about suggestions that the industry should start moving away from manual to automated manual boxes. Such reservations are likely to accompany proposals to introduce more fully-automatic transmissions – but they might just represent the next big step.

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