After a few weeks on the road with the new Cascadia Evolution, I’ve had ample time to evaluate the Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission.
Some people tend to lump automated manual transmissions (AMT) into the same category as a traditional automatic transmission. In reality, the only similarity between these two transmissions is that neither requires shifting by the operator unless he/she so chooses. The internals of an AMT transmission are essentially the same as the manual transmissions we’ve all had for years. What an AMT does is combines the operational ease of an automatic with the efficiency of a traditional manual transmission.
I’ve had experience with AMT’S for a few years now and have found that the one shortcoming has been in their low speed maneuvering capabilities. It seemed that when making a tight intricate maneuver into a dock, the truck wanted to launch a foot at a time, instead of an inch. Due to these issues, I was interested in seeing how the new DT12 performed under these circumstances. I was pleasantly surprised at how slow and precise movement could be controlled with the DT12’S creep mode. This was as close as I’ve seen a road tractor’s maneuverability compared to an automatic transmission in a yard jockey truck. Once you engage creep mode, you regulate your speed with the brake pedal. The brake pedal in creep mode works just like the clutch pedal in a traditional manual transmission.
Once out of the yard, it was time to experience the new DT12 transmission on the open highway. One of the advanced technologies I first experienced was that of the skip shift. This is feature that enables the transmission to automatically skip gears and run through the lower gears to achieve cruising speed sooner. While pulling out of a yard, the road was downhill and the transmission was able to recognize this and it went from 3rd gear to 5th then to 7th and onto 9th then began to hit every gear up to 12th. It was amazing how much quicker the Cascadia got up to speed without having to hit every gear position within the transmission. In town, after a few traffic lights, I became quickly impressed with its prowess at progressively shifting in the lower side of the gear box. Most AMT’S I’ve driven in the past, tended to over rev the engine in the lower gears. Therefore, I’m happy to see this improvement in the new transmission. Once out on the highway, I was able to experience how the proprietary control module communicates with the entire power train. With Detroit making the engine and the transmission, they now have the ability to share unprecedented levels of information between two components, such as an engine and transmission. This allowed the transmission to optimize shifts to keep the engine in the sweet spot of fuel efficiency or performance.
On the rolling hills of the open highway, the next feature that came to light was eCoast, which allows the vehicle to coast downgrades with the engine operating at idle speeds. It amazed me at how smoothly it would shift in and out of gear, and in fact if you had the radio on, you almost aren’t even aware of the shifting in and out of gear. While in eCoast mode, the instant you touch the throttle or brake the transmission instantly comes back into its proper gear. I took some other drivers on a ride in the new truck in order to show them how well this eCoast feature works. Prior to their ride, they told me all they could see in this scenario was an out of gear runaway truck. However, after their ride those fears were easily put to rest. All of them liked the new feature.
After approximately 10,500 miles on this new truck, I’m thrilled with the performance of the new AMT transmission. I realize many of you that have driven manual transmissions for years are a bit resistant to embrace the new AMT transmission. However, I equate these transmissions to many of the other features we’ve grown to like over the years, such as power steering, air-ride, air conditioning, cruise control and even power windows. At the beginning of my career, I remember as these features were added to our vehicles many drivers grumbled that they weren’t “real trucks.” While I have fond memories of those older trucks, I would only be interested in driving them in a parade, not for hundreds or thousands of miles. The three bad disks in my back remind me how wonderful those older “real trucks” could be to one’s health. The other item of contention which I’ve heard from fellow drivers is that this type of technology makes it so that anyone can drive a truck. I have to disagree as while it may make driving easier, it also makes a veteran driver even better. There is still no substitute for a high quality driver.

Comments (3)

Henry Albert

Henry Albert is the owner of Albert Transport, Inc., based in Statesville, NC. Before participating in the "Slice of Life" program, Albert drove a 2001 Freightliner Century Class S/T™, and will use his Cascadia for general freight and a dry van trailer. Albert, who has been a trucker since 1983, was recognized by Overdrive as its 2007 Trucker of the Year.

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As I am a firm believer that technology makes our lives better, I can't wait to one day be able to drive one of these AMT equipped trucks. After reading your blog on this subject, I feel most of the bugs that I feared most about earlier AMT technology have been worked on. I remember driving a much earlier freightliner unit with a Mercedes powertrain that had the high revving you mentioned in the lower sequence of gears. It also had a tendency to hang up on the hills when under a heavy load, since I was usually maxed out at 40 tons hauling cement and flyash powder back then. I can't wait to read more in your blogs as your progress continues on the new DD15 and DT12.

December 03, 2012 20:17:59 PM

I would definitely like to try one of these out some time. It sounds like something that could be a big improvement over the old " Well sounds like it's time to shift now".

November 28, 2012 15:14:51 PM

Henry, thanks for the information. I have been cautious of the AMT's in both class 8 trucks and in private vehicles. I enjoy shifting but I can see the advantages that you are discussing. I hope they have truly fixed the inefficiencies of the automatics with this new AMT, that has been a large hurdle to overcome in buying those transmissions versus a manual transmission.

November 27, 2012 14:40:34 PM