Will drivers come around on automatic transmissions?

| July 23, 2013

As a follow up to Monday’s look at how automatic transmissions are gaining ground in the industry — due mostly to the data engines and transmissions are now able to share with one another — we delve into the issue of driver acceptance of automatic transmissions over manual. Click here to see the first part of this story.

Mack Trucks says the take rate for its mDrive AMT is currently in the neighborhood of 38 percent, which aligns with other OEMs that report figures ranging from 35 percent to the low 40-percent range.

Mack Trucks says the take rate for its mDrive AMT is currently in the neighborhood of 38 percent, which aligns with other OEMs that report figures ranging from 35 percent to the low 40-percent range.

Though older drivers often prefer manual gearboxes, some admit they’re hearing good things about the latest generation of automatics.

“I’ve never driven an automatic,” says Bo Hudson, an owner-operator who runs tankers nationwide. “I can see how they’d be a good option for fleets that can’t find experienced drivers and help keep them out of tight spots where they’d tear equipment up.”

Hudson prefers an 18-speed manual with a splitter because it gives him better control over tanker slosh. “That’s a feel that comes with experience,” he says. “No computer can predict slosh and act in advance to minimize it.”

Still, Hudson would like to test-drive an automatic and see for himself if they can live up to the hype. “I’ve talked to a few drivers that have them, and they say they wouldn’t have anything else,” he notes. “They get a little bored sometimes, but they love them.”

Alabama-based owner-operator Tom Hubbard says that although he’s never driven an automatic, he definitely would look at one if he was considering buying a new truck.

“I’ve been driving for 25 years, and I feel like I’ve got more control over the truck with a manual gearbox,” Hubbard says. “On the other hand, the way traffic is now with so much congestion and construction work going on, I can see that an automatic would really be a help. Driving in those conditions puts a lot of strain on both the driver and a manual transmission.”

Green Bay, Wis.-based owner-operator Jeff Adams already is a full-blown convert: His new Freightliner is equipped with Detroit’s new DT12 automated manual transmission. “I’d have no problem going back to a manual if I had to – but I’d rather not,” says Adams, adding that as far as he’s concerned, his AMT simply is better than a manual in every way.

“It shifts faster than I can think, and it’s very logical,” he says. “Even with 80,000 pounds behind me, if conditions are right on a downward grade, it knows right off to start out in fifth gear. Those concepts are alien to a lot of drivers – even experienced ones.”

The biggest benefit, Adams says, is fuel economy: “Fuel is my biggest expense, and now I get the best possible fuel economy all the time.” His favorite feature is the Coast mode: If a truck is on a downward slope at highway speeds, the AMT senses that and shifts into neutral to save fuel, and then slides back into the correct gear when needed.

Adams says he started out logging 7.4 mpg running the AMT, and those numbers have improved. “I was a fairly consistent 6.7-mpg guy with a manual transmission,” he says. “Today, with the AMT, my standard is 8.5 mpg, and my best-ever tank was 8.7 mpg. I think there’s still room for those numbers to go up.”

  • miguelito

    Well in european truck makers volvo and scania reports that their sales are 60% automatic nowadays…
    And they think it will increase more over the years..

  • Jeff Clark

    Sounds lot like my experience with the DT12

  • Jimmy Nevarez

    Ditto Jeff Clark! Anyone who is in doubt should try the Detroit DT12…it made a convert out of me!

  • James

    Jeeze-I dunno. Power steering,air conditioning,and now automatic transmissions. One step closer to the driverless trucks I’ve been reading about. you guys are “conveniencing” yourselves out of your jobs.

  • MercenaryMan

    I love the Auto trans its been a lifesaver in Citys like DC, Chicago, NYC , Atlanta where traffic jam is the norm, Ive run in the mountains, and on the plains and I find the Auto to be a great knee saver…Ive gotten ecellent fuel mileage in my straight truck doing Expedite and on my Flatbed hauling steel coils or Cranes, The D12 is a fine alternative and does it better, easier, and saves that KNEE.

  • Claude

    As far as I am concerned I would like the chance to drive an automatic. I have been reading up on the Volvo and Detroit transmissions and it is a close call. But remember it is the best way to save fuel and equipment wear and tare. I have been driving otr for 36 years and what has changed in that time about trucks, engines, and the laws is mind blowing to say the least. But maybe soon I will find out what it is like to be shiftless.

  • Jimmy the Greek

    My car has a manual transmission , Every thing i own is manual .

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  • Certifiably Nutty

    Bring back the 5×4, You never get bored driving with that but then again you can’t get a broken arm with an auto..

  • Daryl Wirth

    It”s amazing how dumb comments the so called truck drivers can make.been driving truck for more than 25 years and been driving an I shift for almost 2 years and love it.

  • Daryl Wirth

    Bo Hudson has no clue what he is talking about.Just blowing smoke up everyones butt

  • Slacker

    Damn son, you are telegraphing your age right there.

  • martymarsh

    They are so far away from driverless trucks it’s funny, don’t believe everything you read. They had automatics 30 years ago only they couldn’t get the synchronizers right. If I remember right.

  • martymarsh

    If they did that there would only be a handful of drivers.

  • martymarsh

    That is because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

  • martymarsh

    I wouldn’t say that, he knows what he knows, but being that I have also run tankers and never run an automatic I can say with great certainty that the slosh is controlled by the driver, not the truck.
    But then on the other hand, just because a man happens to be doing a particular job at any given time that makes him an expert, or at least it would seem that way, why else would they have printed his comments in the article. At least overdrive thinks he is an expert. Yes there was a lot of sarcasm there and it was not directed at you.

  • martymarsh

    You are not a man if you don’t have to move a stick around 47 times in a mile. Technology today should tell anyone that computers can do it better than man, it will do the exact same way all of the time, were a man can never be exact, WHAT, you say you have never missed a gear in 30 years. I’m sorry just ignore this, after all I have never driven an automatic so how could I know?

  • Jimmy the Greek

    No it is because I can get out of the hole better with a standered , I may be old but i still race ! I drive a mustang GT , The motorcycle i ride has right at $5000. in gofast work inside the motor , and that is not in crome and neion lights like a stupited yuppie would spend money on !

  • Shawn L Hubbard

    Our account uses both manuals and automatics. Driving in Los Angeles traffic everyday, the autos are a welcome convenience. The only real problem with them is when backing under trailers. There’s no finesse with an automatic, which leads to a lot of slamming fifth wheels into trailer kingpins. Other than that, they are a joy to drive.

  • martymarsh

    You do know I was only messing with you?

  • Jimmy the Greek

    thats ok lol

  • martymarsh

    I think we have both shown our age by what we know.

  • Jimmy the Greek

    i am 62

  • Demitri

    Well I know I definitely prefer my vehicle to be a stick shift. And I do like shifting when im on long stretches. But When i would deliver in LA it was a nightmare. So an Auto might be a welcomed change. And from a wear and tear stand point I can see why more manufacturers are switching also plus a fuel economy point as well. Same reason why more auto manufacturers are going to automatics and dropping manuals. The autos shift quicker and get better mileage now then a manual. BUT if you want good theft prevention buy a manual. Because kids these days dont know how to shift. By the time my kids are grown i may never be able to teach them the joy of down shifting.

  • Daryl Wirth

    This is the whole problem with so many truck drivers.If you never drove a newer automatic, they shouldn’t comment on it. When the first thing out of there mouth is it for the rookie that cant shift is a dumb ass in my book

  • martymarsh

    From what you were telling me about length laws I knew you were every bit of that, I will be 62 in December.

  • James

    Of course I know they won’t be able to make a “driverless trucks” concept work,there’s too many variables it takes a driver to deal with. And actually,(This information is via my Uncle Keith who drove as an Owner Operator for years,then drove for Time DC until he retired. I never knew him to lie or exaggerate,so I believe this to be true.) it appears the automatic equipped trucks worked relatively well in the East,but failed miserably in the West,with the mountainous terrain and long steep grades to go up and down. They had trouble cooling the automatics under low speed/high load situations such as driving up the long climbs,and the lack of suitable compression braking made them an “adventure” to drive on long downhill stretches. Mentioning synchronizers,I assume you’re referring to manual/automatic hybrid transmissions. These newer designs of “automatics” seem to have it all sorted though.

  • Certifiably Nutty

    Not so old as you think, My old man taught me when I was a teenager in the early 80s on an old Pete. He said it was a lost skill. It apparently is…fewer every year know how to drive it.

  • Certifiably Nutty

    I bet there are more out there then you think. Of course all the change and tech is all about wanting to squeeze every last mile out of your tanks. I bet you won’t see huge gains immediately, but over the course of a year it will be noticeable.

  • martymarsh

    There isn’t many of us alive that have even seen a 5/4 let a lone drove one. But with the motors of today you just don’t need all of those gears unless you are hauling 200,000. Even with that weight things are done so much different today with pusher trucks and motors that will pull down a mountain. And my biggest point is, you will put CR England out of business. Can’t you see 2 rookies in a truck trying to figure that out?

  • Jimmy the Greek

    I rember when you could only pull a 45′ woth a cabover in the east .

  • martymarsh

    I do to, like it was yesterday.

  • Certifiably Nutty

    Sure, one for each stick and an invoice in their pocket from CRE for the time they spent trying to figure it out after they quit in frustration.

  • martymarsh

    LMAO, it would be something to see.
    Hey Charlie, what are these things for?

  • Jimmy the Greek

    I got to get off my ass and run a load see youall later ,

  • Jeff Baird

    I loved the automatic transmissions of the 740 Cat but would never want to drive an 18 wheeler with one, there is no reason they need to have, both in the mountains or in climate weather !

  • X

    Who really gives a rats tail about autos vs. manual.