Are Younger Drivers “Driving” the Push Towards Automated Manual Transmissions?

3PLs

If demography really is destiny, then it seems logical that a technology that’s most familiar to a growing generation will take precedence over the tried and true.

Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) use is growing by about 2-3 percent per year. What’s behind that growth? First and foremost, every company is concerned with bettering the bottom line, either through cutting expenses, developing greater efficiencies, and consolidating functions. For companies that have a transportation component, there is a laser-like focus on fuel efficiency. An AMT is a standard gearbox that does not change gears automatically but instead aids manual gear changes in a way that eliminates the need to press the clutch pedal. The clutch actuation and gearshifts are handled by an electronically controlled system within the AMT. The result, according to manufacturers, is smoother engagement, better drive-ability, and optimized fuel efficiency, better than even that delivered by the most professionally driven truck with a manual transmission.

But there is another major reason for the change, and that boils down to the subject on the mind of every fleet everywhere…the worsening shortage of drivers. Late last year, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) published a white paper discussing this situation, showing that the trucking industry has a disproportionate number of drivers who are 45 years of age are older. A 2013 estimate from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) indicated that there was a shortage of between 30,000 and 35,000 drivers with an impending shortage of 240,000 by 2022. That’s comes at the same time as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment opportunities for truck drivers (especially heavy truck and tractor trailer drivers) is projected to grow by 21% by the year 2020. That means younger drivers will have to move into those driver positions as the older drivers retire. And that’s where the growth in AMTs really starts to make sense.

When it comes to manual versus AMTs, it’s true that there are thousands of highly experienced drivers who take great pride in their ability to operate an 18-speed manual gearbox which keeps them completely engaged in truck driving. But these are the same drivers who are either leaving the profession, having reached the age of retirement, or will do so in the not-so-distant future. Younger people have different driver skill sets which they bring with them into the profession. Many have never driven a car with a manual transmission and lack the basic familiarity with it. Manufacturers say AMTs help these drivers focus on the task at hand, delivering the same optimum fuel mileage as the best driver using a manual transmission. That’s because AMTs make sure the truck is always in the right gear at the right time.

This is not to say that there aren’t older drivers who also appreciate driving as AMT rather than a manual transmission. Many do. But when it comes to the demographic changes occurring, younger drivers will be the main beneficiaries of this truck technology.

So with an AMT, a carrier or private fleet owner gets greater fuel efficiency (an immediate, bottom line positive). But along with that, having that equipment available can be a real selling point when trying to attract younger drivers. And once this next generation of drivers is on board, a combination of vehicle satisfaction, coupled with a decent wage and a supportive corporate environment can lead to a better retention rate.

What are your thoughts on AMTs?

Joe Puff

About Joe Puff

Joe Puff is the Vice President of Truck Technology and Maintenance for NationaLease. He has more than 35 years of experience in complex sales and fleet operations, including extensive experience in commercial vehicle maintenance. Joe is responsible for advising NationaLease members and the National Account team of new truck technology, industry trends, and maintenance best practices.

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