Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) is gaining significant acceptance by the buyers of the small and medium cars in India and even in commercial vehicles. Currently provided in only one per cent of the small and medium cars being delivered to the market, AMT is expected to grow nearly 30 per cent by 2020.
Providing driving comfort is no longer exclusive to luxury segment of passenger vehicles. Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) is a low cost technology, currently gaining significant acceptance by the buyers of the small and medium cars in India and even in commercial vehicles. Urban commuters in Metro, Tier II and some Tier III cities encounter chock-a-block traffic conditions as a daily routine, causing them immense discomfort and fatigue. AMT is a welcome solution and this market is expected to grow manifolds in the coming years. Led by automakers like Maruti, Tata Motors, Mahindra, others are soon expected to join this bandwagon. As per market reports, AMT is currently provided in only one per cent of the small and medium cars being delivered to the market and is expected to grow to nearly 30 per cent by 2020.
For passenger and commercial vehicle transmissions, buyers usually opt for classical manual shift systems, automatic transmissions, or dual clutch transmissions. But of late, there has been a new breed of transmissions, AMT or auto manual transmission that has made quite a buzz in the Indian automobile market, with a number of automobile manufacturers adopting the technology. It has turned out to be an economical solution for both vehicle manufacturers and customers. For transmission manufacturers like ZF, Wabco, Getrag, Magneti Marelli, etc it offers the biggest growth potentials in emerging markets like India, China, and South America. Market dynamics in emerging markets dictate that buyers want their vehicles to be comfortable in congested traffic without having to pay extra ordinary premium for it. Herein, the AMT perfectly fits the bill due to their reasonable price, eco-friendly attributes, reduction of fuel consumption etc.
AMT uses electronic sensors, pneumatics, processors and actuators to execute gear shifts on input from the driver or by a computer. This removes the need for a clutch pedal which the driver otherwise needs to depress before making a gear change, since the clutch itself is actuated by electronic equipment which can synchronise the timing and torque required to make quick, smooth gear shifts. The system was designed by automobile manufacturers to provide a better driving experience through fast overtaking manoeuvers on highways. Some motorcycles also use a system with a conventional gear change but without the need for manual clutch operation.
Gaining prominence in India
It is no secret that AMT has now been revolutionised by market leader Maruti Suzuki in association with Italian auto component maker Magneti Marelli Powertrain India (when it introduced this technology in the Celerio hatchback, followed by K10 and now WagonR. Magneti Marelli's new AMT technology, which has been sourced from Italy, has been customised for the Indian market and will not be exported as of now. The technology is based on the use of an ECU combined with an electro-hydraulic system that controls the use of the clutch when changing gears allowing the driver to shift gears without the use of the clutch either sequentially or in a fully automatic way. In the commercial vehicle space, Ashok Leyland replicated the same by aligning with Wabco to roll out Boss range of trucks with factory-fitted AMT. Use of AMTs help reduce the running cost of a vehicle and fuel consumption by around 5 per cent as also cuts emissions by 5-10 per cent compared to manual transmission.
Mayank Agochiya, President, Ricardo India and Managing Director - Asia, Ricardo Strategic Consulting says, "If you look at automotive hubs across the world, the core markets like US, Japan, Europe, India, etc are distinct from each other. Each nation has a different philosophy with a different approach to automation. The US was always planetary gears, Japan was CVTs, Europe which was MT-based have moved to DCTs. India is on a similar path as well, i.e. 99 per cent MT. The move to AMTs is easy on various perspectives. AMT holds a lot of promise for India from Magneti Marelli's perspective. Even though India is primarily a manual transmission market, there is an increasing need now to automate this process. However, the Indian market demands a product that isn't significantly higher in price or fuel consumption, yet the functional benefits should be high. That makes things difficult in India. Achieving this through other forms of automatic gearboxes is tough, as the technology is expensive. Unlike CVTs or dual-clutch units, in the case of AMTs, it's just the gear shifts, which are carried out electronically through actuators. These actuators are further controlled by hydraulic electro-valves. In addition, the technology is said to be capable of offering fuel efficiency gains in the range of 5-10 per cent over an ideal driver using a manual transmission."
Ricardo is basically an engineering consulting firm which helps automotive and other industrial companies in developing their futuristic products. The UK-based firm designs and engineers products rather than making the products physically. It also has its own control strategies for the Transmission Control Units (TCUs) of AMTs, DCTs, CVTs and conventional ATs and uses it for its advanced transmission development with partner OEMs across the world. "We are not in the business of supplying auto parts. We will handhold and work with our partners till SOP and 3-6 months subsequent to that. If there are any teething issues, we are ready on the ground to have a quick problem resolution," adds Agochiya.
Applications and market
Industry consultants reckon that it is not just India but other emerging countries such as China and Brazil that will embrace a solution such as the AMT. In the passenger vehicle space, Magneti Marelli is already working with Tata Motors (Zest, Nano), Maruti Suzuki and a handful of other OEMs in the country for supplying AMTs. Interestingly, the company is already working for implementation of this technology on cars across various segments including the A, B and C segments. Adding to the positives of the AMT is the fact that it can be integrated with any existing manual transmission. All components of the hydraulic unit are placed in the form of a kit, which is delivered to the car maker. This kit once assembled in the gearbox, interfaces mechanically with the gear drive shaft. The gear changes depending on various conditions are decided by a transmission control unit. This eliminates the need to spend heavily in developing or procuring another type of automatic transmission. However, AMTs cannot be retrofitted.
States Agochiya, "Servicing for AMT is very easy and is not at all a limitation. It is basically a manual transmission with an add-on module. It comes at a price premium of approximately Rs 40,000-50,000, so it is the customer's call to go in for the 'two pedal' convenience or not. But it cannot be fitted in the aftermarket because it is an add-on module to the manual transmission which is factory- fitted right at the OEM level. The TCU needs to be talking to the engine's Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and it is difficult to do that as an after-market fitment and without involvement of the OEM."
Making in India
After witnessing the phenomenal response to such vehicles, AMT makers are now jumping on the Make-in-India bandwagon. Magneti Marelli Powertrain India, a joint venture between Magneti Marelli, the component arm of Fiat SpA of Italy, Maruti Suzuki and Suzuki Motor Company, has inaugurated its first AMT plant at Manesar, near Gurgaon. Located within the Maruti Suzuki campus in the township, it is part of the same premises of Magneti Marelli that houses its electronic control unit facility. Entailing an investment of Rs 150 crore, the plant kicked off production in July this year with supplies to Maruti Suzuki having commenced since August. The production of the AMT kits locally is expected to bring down the long waiting periods for car models fitted with these gearboxes. The facility is spread across 7,500 sq m and employs 115 people.
The plant has been constructed within a record nine-month period. Starting with an initial production capacity of 10,000 units monthly, it will reach full capacity of 280,000 units per annum by end of 2016 or early 2017. However, the Italian plant will continue to supplement AMT supplies to car manufacturers in India in addition to the AMTs supplied from the Manesar plant as per demand. AMTs will be supplied to the A, B and entry level C-segment models followed by LCVs later.
Likewise, ZF, a leading German supplier of components for automated manual transmissions, profits from this trend. Depending on the customer requirements, the company provides complete systems or only individual modules for automotive manufacturers. Besides the central mechanical components - clutch actuator, transmission actuator, and the clutch itself, the transmission control unit and the gearshift system are main AMT components which the company makes.
"ZF is able to deliver the complete hardware system including all functionalities, so car manufacturers only need to cooperate with one supplier to realise their AMT projects. Furthermore, ZF engineers can support the AMT integration in the vehicle. They render, for instance, engineering or project management services like design or adaptation tasks to achieve a specific shift characteristic for a certain vehicle model," says KV Suresh, Country Head, ZF India.
Limitations and improvements
If there are upsides, there are a few downsides too and that is the gearshift quality which is not as smooth as the DCT, AT or CVT. It may take approximately one second for the gearshift to happen, which is a perceptible time period. The relatively longer gear shift and poorer gear shift quality has led to limited success for the AMT across the world. India is one of the unique markets where AMT is getting success as automation is still a newer concept in the A, B and C segment vehicles plus cost and fuel efficiency override gear shift quality in these segments. Gear shift quality does become more of an issue in premium vehicles, say above Rs 10 lakh. Thus you would see CVTs, DCTs or ATs in premium vehicles. Whereas AMTs are more popular in the entry to mid priced vehicle range (
However, OEMs and its technological partners are redoubling its efforts to do away with the glitch. As Agochiya states, "This is something we are actively working on and that is doing away with the torque lag. We already have our own patented e-AMT which will ensure that the gearshift quality is smoother and more in sync with the DCTs, CVTs and ATs. I would expect these gen2 of AMTs to come by 2020."
Many of the automakers and its tier-1 suppliers are now zeroing in on developing technical innovations by means of which the comfort disadvantages of the AMT compared to classical automatic transmissions could be further reduced.
"Due to the optimised interaction of control software and new servo motors at the actuators, the tractive force interruption, for example when upshifting from the first to the second gear under load, could be considerably shortened like this: For a speed of 6,000 revolutions per minute, it now amounts to only 260 milliseconds. For this and other enhancements, gearshifts are less noticeable. Furthermore, ZF's mechanical actuators became ever lighter, more robust, and thermally resistant in recent years," states Suresh.
When it is about more comfort and fewer emissions for compact cars, further improvements might increase the attractiveness of ZF's automated manual transmissions even more in the future. For instance, a start-stop system might be easily integrated which could extend the fuel consumption advantages in city traffic by up to to 15 per cent. When the vehicle is standing still, for example at traffic lights, the system switches off the engine - and starts it again when the driver changes from the brake to the accelerator pedal.
Magneti Marelli had earlier mentioned that an AMT, combined with an electric motor, could be a serious possibility, and that would prove to be a game changer for small cars in particular. This hybrid technology would help reduce CO2 emissions significantly, and should particularly be well-accepted in markets like Europe, China, and later India. Additionally, AMTs for motorcycles could also be an interesting probability in India.
Furthermore, ZF engineers are focusing on automation components and control units: With the so-called "coasting operation", the fuel consumption can be reduced even further. This is possible because of automatic disengaging as soon as the driver slows down the vehicle: This way, the vehicle can 'coast' downhill without braking drag torques of the engine. Another function that can be integrated is the "Hill Holder" that makes it easier to set off at steep roads - an automatic braking intervention prevents the vehicle from accidentally rolling backwards - an additional comfort advantage for the driver. The combination with hybrid technology is also on the agenda of the ZF developers for future product generations of the AMT. And with an additional electric motor on board, which is a further future option, the transmission control unit could negate the tractive force interruption and therefore enhance the driving comfort in compact cars with AMT even more>
Most OEMs are of the view that the traffic congestion and increase in young buyers will result in unprecedented growth for the semi-automatic transmission vehicles. Currently, the AT transmission market is pegged at 4-5 per cent of the total and is expected to spike up to 30 per cent by 2020 with a major chunk being derived from the AMT version.
Consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan's analysis predicts sales of automatic vehicles to reach about five lakh by 2020. AMT can take the credit for heralding that change. It is cheaper than conventional automatic -- adds just 5-10 per cent to the price -- and consumes less fuel than manual transmission car.
Previous surveys by Maruti had shown that 40-50 per cent of prospective buyers were willing to pay up to Rs 40,000 more for an automatic car. That number dropped to 20 per cent when the premium was increased to Rs 60,000.
In FY16, Maruti's goal is to sell almost one lakh AMT cars, making up 7-8 per cent of its overall sales target, says company sources. Maruti's success led Tata Motors to offer AMT technology on its latest model, the Zest sedan, while the Renault-Nissan combine is planning to debut future models with AMT.
Hyundai too is exploring AMT, but may look more at localising production to make the automatic technology more affordable in India. "Over a period, increasing customer interest will create a need for bringing in automatic in every product, especially so in the high-end of sedan and SUVs," says Rakesh Srivastava, Senior Vice President - Sales and Marketing, Hyundai Motor India. M&M has also developed an AMT technology with Ricardo and is expected to launch it soon.
Germany's Robert Bosch, the world's largest auto component maker, and UK-based Drive System Design are working out several options to bring affordable drive systems into the Indian market. Meanwhile, the Bengaluru-based Indian unit of Bosch is working on an eClutch technology that automates the clutch system allowing the vehicle to be driven like an automatic car. According to sources in the automobile industry, the eClutch automates only the clutch, not the entire transmission system, and is cheaper compared with the conventional technology.
Drive System Design is working with Indian component makers to design and develop new transmission and future driveline systems to meet the growing demand for AMTs. Among others, Mahindra & Mahindra has developed an AMT technology with global component major Ricardo and Renault-Nissan is planning to debut its future models
Agochiya sums it up on a positive note, "As per our internal forecasts, we expect 10 per cent of AMT penetration in the PV market by 2025. India will still remain predominantly a manual transmission market. People in the urban areas like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, etc will be the first ones to embrace this technology because of the traffic congestion. However, people in tier-II cities like Pune, where the traffic is relatively smoother will still stick to MT for the longer run. So it is never going to be the US or Japan where 95 per cent of the vehicles are automated transmission-driven. Even though there will not be a big swing happening in automatic transmissions, there will definitely be an upsurge in automated manual transmission."