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Completing the puzzle: The PACCAR automated transmission allows Peterbilt to push integration further

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Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 14 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

The Peterbilt 579, bathed in signature Legendary Red, thundered onto the highway beneath an overcast sky that did little to snuff out the searing Texas sun. But in the cab, it was cool and quiet as the new PACCAR automated transmission stealthily skip shifted gears—fourth, sixth, eighth—allowing Kyle Quinn, Peterbilt Motors Co. general manager and PACCAR senior vice president, to stay focused on steering, but set his sights on the road ahead for the newly completed PACCAR proprietary powertrain.

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“An integrated powertrain gives you the capability to maximize your performance,” Quinn said, “because you have the capability to look inside and manage how you implement functions. It gives you the capability to do that in a better, deeper way. Safety systems, automated driver assistance systems and autonomous systems, in the future, are going to require that we have the ability to go down to the deepest level of detail in order to ensure that they’ll function correctly and to be safe.”

The 12-speed PACCAR automated transmission was a needed step in Peterbilt’s product plans. It was built from a “clean sheet” design for line-haul applications up to 110,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight. It is available for engine ratings up to 510 HP and 1,850 lb./ft. of torque. The transmission’s electronic communications are integrated with the PACCAR MX engine. It is also up to 105 lbs. lighter than comparable transmissions, specifically the Eaton Fuller Advantage transmission.

PACCAR-Automated-Transmission-Stock-Shot

In terms of efficiency, the newly formed PACCAR Powertrain division reported that its integrated proprietary powertrain—consisting of a PACCAR MX engine, PACCAR 40k axle and the newly announced PACCAR automated transmission—with predictive cruise control, predictive shifting and the new predictive neutral coast can provide up to a 1.5% fuel economy improvement when compared to a powertrain without these features. And this is a powertrain that’s in its infancy, with the opportunity for even more efficiency gains just down the road.

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“Greenhouse gas regulations are going to drive us to reach lower and lower carbon emissions,” Quinn said, “and as a result, it’s going to require that we have full control over the powertrain platform.”

Quinn shifted conversational gears as the transmission handled a quick downshift to maintain a safe following distance from the truck ahead. He explained that the transmission includes a differentiated fluid pressure detection system that protects the gears and shafts from low fluid conditions, allowing PACCAR to offer a five-year, 750,000-mile warranty.

The PACCAR automated transmission is now available and rolling onto highways this month. Even though Peterbilt shares the availability of the PACCAR powertrain with Kenworth trucks, Quinn stressed the importance of the Peterbilt driving experience as he sat confidently in the 579’s driver seat.

“If you drive these vehicles, there are differences between them,” he said purposefully, sliding his hand across the top of the steering wheel, as if he were shaking hands with an old friend. “There are differences in the way that they’re styled and their appearance. There are also differences in the way that they handle, the way that they drive, and the way that they feel. We’ll continue to make those distinctions.”

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