The death of the gearstick

In recent times, I’ve been forming the view that it has become socially acceptable within the trucking world for a driver to hold a restricted licence, and consequently not be licensed to drive a constant-mesh manual transmission.

I used the words “socially acceptable” because within the predominantly male trucking industry; a driver not being licensed or capable of operating a proper manual gearbox would often be seen as an inferior to their peers, not in all workplaces, but definitely in some.  We’ve conducted many licence assessments on clients who didn’t actually need an unrestricted licence but choose that pathway just to keep up with their work colleagues.  Times are changing, and they’re changing fast.

The die-hard “RoadRanger” cohort still exists, but their numbers are dwindling, and it really is a matter of time until truck manufacturers elect to not offer an Eaton Fuller RoadRanger as the standard transmission.

It’s hard to use our enrolments as a yardstick, because as the interest for the manual truck licence course has dropped off in the general industry, we’ve managed to improve our market share, and consequently have managed to keep a steady stream of customers doing the course.  How long this will last is anyone guess, as we know of other training organisations who have had significant reductions of enrolments in unrestricted courses over the last few years.

It was only last year that we were seriously considering purchasing a brand new truck with an 18-speed in it, but our ideas are changing, and our worry is that whilst we may be able to sustain sufficient work in the short term, it may not go on forever.  We wouldn’t want to have a brand new truck, and nobody wanting to enrol.

Transport companies are always looking at ways to find a competitive edge, and having vehicles fitted with user-friendly transmissions means that they can fill staff shortages more easily, and mitigate downtime.  The AMT being computerised does control fuel consumption to some degree too.

A colleague of mine done a tour of the Kenworth plant in Seattle, USA, and was amazed to see hundreds of motors coupled with gearboxes, and the vast majority didn’t have a gear stick, as most were destined to be fitted with a remote electronic controller.

There are many medium duty automatics and automated manual gearbox options for vehicles pitched at the “vocational” industry, such as Concrete agitators and Waste management.  Trucks designed for the heavy freight industry need a heavy-duty transmission to handle the torque from the big horsepower motors, so the Eaton Fuller RoadRanger fits nicely in this space, but Eatons’ AutoShift is also very much an option.

For those who don’t like the “clumsiness” of an AMT, I stumbled across this other day:  The Allison TC10, which is a serious heavy-duty fully automatic transmission with torque convertor.  The TC10 is rated to be coupled with a 600HP motor, with about 2300nm of input torque.  I’m unsure if this transmission is available for purchase in Australia yet, but I’m excited to learn more about it.

In summary, I’m of the opinion that the constant-mesh manual transmission has peaked in popularity some time back, and now and going forward it’s on the decline.  There will be plenty available for many years on the second hand market though.

This article was not written to encourage a candidate one way or another between training options, it’s been written as a general update of where we see the industry going, and where we are at now.