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‘Automatic’ retention: Equipment that makes drivers productive and fleets profitable


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.


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As automated manual transmissions (AMTs) rose through the build ranks of the OEMs, you often heard a similar refrain: “Once you get a driver behind the wheel of an AMT, they will not want to go back to a manual.”

Today, truck OEMs report that AMTs make up the majority of builds in on-highway applications. AMTs are also eating into large chunks of vocational builds, thanks to the creation of crawler gears and other features built for these hard-working applications.

“About 30% of our linehaul customers purchased automated transmissions in 2013, and that’s now up to 70%,” reported Kurt Swihart, Kenworth’s marketing director. The proprietary PACCAR automated transmission integrates with the PACCAR MX-13 engine and PACCAR tandem rear axles in the Kenworth and sports a column-mounted shifter, putting gear selection and engine brake controls at the driver’s fingertips for better ergonomics and improved performance.

“There’s no reaching—the shifter is right there on the steering wheel column,” Swihart said. “This also frees up space on the dash by eliminating engine brake control switches.”

At Daimler Trucks North America, approximately 85% of its heavy-duty truck models, including the Freightliner New Cascadia, the Freightliner Classic Cascadia and the Western Star 5700XE, are being delivered with Detroit DT12 AMTs, according to Brian Daniels, manager for Detroit powertrain and component product marketing.


“Fleets are realizing benefits for both newer and more experienced drivers, such as ease of operation, enhanced fuel economy, and safety,” Daniels said. “Additionally, AMTs are also expanding the driver pool as they appeal to newer drivers with less experience.”

In the case of Volvo Trucks North America, its I-Shift automated transmission is standard on Volvo trucks with Volvo engines, allowing the drivers to concentrate on safely hauling freight and not on manually shifting gears. According to the OEM, the latest edition of the I-Shift includes upgraded hardware and software, greater durability and a new countershaft brake for improved performance and smoother shifting. Volvo also improved clutch durability and torsional dampening in both its D11 and D13 models.

“The Volvo I-Shift automated manual transmission is a preferred feature among professional drivers, helping them be safer and more fuel efficient,” said Johan Agebrand, Volvo Trucks product marketing manager for long-haul. “Professional drivers appreciate the active and passive safety features.”

The increased use of automated transmissions has also led to better safety, a more pleasant working environment and reduced fatigue for drivers, according to Shane Groner, director of Roadranger field marketing.


“With the increase in build rate of AMTs, we have consistently heard from fleets that it opens the door for more non-traditional driver demographics, helping fleets combat, to some extent, the driver shortage challenges,” Groner said. “Fleets consistently mention that they are able to onboard a new driver quicker with automated products in their trucks as the learning curve is faster.”

A safer driver means more productive results

Bendix Wingman Fusion

Just as transmissions are deeply integrated into today’s drivelines, so too are the truck’s components intertwined with productivity-boosting and safety-enhancing features.

“Recognizing that driver retention is a huge focus for trucking companies, Peterbilt provides a variety of electrical and safety systems that make a driver’s job easier and more comfortable, from the drivability of the new PACCAR automated transmission and the column-mounted shifter to the familiar creature comforts of home,” said Wesley Slavin, Peterbilt’s on-highway marketing manager. “Peterbilt has many proprietary advanced systems, including SmartAir, SmartNav, SmartLinq and the aerodynamic package Epiq. There is also the availability of safety features such as Wingman Advanced, which comes standard on the Model 579, OnGuard Active and the optional Wingman Fusion.”


Bendix Wingman Fusion is a radar- and camera-based safety system that combines and crosschecks information from multiple sources to deliver enhanced rear-end collision mitigation, alerts when speeding, and braking on stationary vehicles. Wingman Fusion also helps drivers avoid additional crash situations, including rollovers, loss-of-control and sideswipe crashes while prioritizing alerts to help reduce driver distraction, according to Bendix. Features of Wingman Fusion include Stationary Vehicle Braking, lane departure warnings, Exceeding Posted Speed Limit Alert and Action, enhanced collision mitigation, following distance alert, and alert prioritization.

The system is also included with Volvo Active Driver Assist, and Volvo was the first heavy-duty truck OEM to offer Bendix Wingman Fusion as standard equipment. Volvo Active Driver Assist is in constant operation while the vehicle is in motion, providing stationary object detection with stationary vehicle braking, which sends audible and visual warnings, including a red warning light that appears in the windshield, alerting the driver to take action if needed, if a metallic object is detected in front of the truck. Braking assist can be applied—at speeds greater than 15 MPH—when the system recognizes the stationary object as a vehicle, independent of whether cruise control is engaged. The driver will receive a warning up to 3.5 seconds before an imminent impact with the vehicle, and, if the driver takes no action, Volvo Active Driver Assist will automatically engage the brakes.


Speaking of brakes, many of the manufacturers are making air disc brakes standard equipment on certain models to increase safety. International and Kenworth have made the announcements related to ADB as standard, with ADBs coming to the Freightliner new Cascadia this spring. Peterbilt’s Model 579 is standard with air disc brakes on all axles as of this January.

In International’s case, the International LT Series in 6×4, 6×2, and 4×2 configurations now feature Bendix ADB22X air disc brakes as a standard offering on all axles.

“Our DriverFirst design philosophy ensures the needs of professional drivers remain top of mind with our product development team,” said Denny Mooney, senior vice president of global product development for International Trucks. “Offering standard air disc brakes on all axles is just another example of our Uptime promise to build trucks with the latest safety technologies, that stay on the road and that drivers want to drive.”

Power to the productivity


Ease of operation, increased efficiency, advanced safety assistance… there’s just one more big bullet point to hit in keeping drivers happy: keeping your trucks on the road. If the tires aren’t rolling, the drivers aren’t making money, and neither are you. That’s where advanced remote diagnostic systems come into play, and fleets and drivers alike are taking notice.


Kelly Gedert, director of product marketing for Freightliner Trucks and Detroit, highlights the Detroit Connect suite of connected vehicle services. “Detroit Connect helps fleets and drivers better understand their vehicle’s performance and helps them make more informed decisions about fault events,” she said. “Virtual Technician alerts fleets within minutes when their vehicle experiences a fault, the severity of it, and when, where and how to take care of the issue. This reduces time spent on diagnostics and in the shop, increasing uptime for drivers. Exclusive to the new Cascadia are Remote Updates, which help drivers stay out of the shop and on the road longer by delivering engine and other powertrain related updates remotely.”

Kenworth’s TruckTech+ Remote Diagnostics system comes standard with every Class 8 Kenworth truck. It’s designed to maximize fleet uptime through diagnostics and service management.

In the event that a dash light is triggered, Kenworth Truck Tech+ classifies the alerts into one of four categories: Informational; Service Soon; Service Now; and Stop Now. The alerts are presented both in email form and on the PACCAR Solutions web portal to the fleet operation manager and/or company dispatcher and designated Kenworth dealer with contact information for the three nearest Kenworth dealerships.


The aforementioned Peterbilt SmartLinq, a factory-installed, fully integrated remote diagnostics system comes standard with all trucks equipped with a Paccar MX-13 engine.

One of the latest system updates is SmartLinq Service Management, which provides customers with real-time access to the status of truck repairs and service being performed at Peterbilt dealerships. According to Peterbilt, it improves uptime by streamlining communication between customers and dealers to expedite decision-making in the servicing of the vehicle, for instance approving electronic repair estimates.


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