Isuzu will have 11 models on show at the 2017 Brisbane Truck Show, and it’s a sure bet that the majority of the light- to medium-duty range will feature automated transmissions. Greg Bush writes
PERHAPS IT’S a case of Australians staying true to tradition, but compared to the United States we’ve taken a while to embrace the trend towards automatic transmissions, notably in the commercial vehicle market.
While the transition to autos may be evident in the higher end of the car market in Europe, anyone who has rented a motor vehicle in the UK should be well aware that manual transmissions are the initial offering. If you want an automatic car you’ll be paying a premium for it.
In recent years, however, transport companies have realised the safety benefits in taking one pedal out of the driving equation. And the savings in operating automatics are being heralded as far outweighing the upfront cost.
The march of the European trucks with automated transmissions, particularly in the heavy-duty market, is an example of this mindset.
At the lighter end of the scale Isuzu is taking a more fundamental approach with their light- and medium-duty trucks.
Isuzu Australia’s chief operating officer Phil Taylor believes – especially with its recently updated N Series range – that buyers are seeking a more “car-like” experience, or, more specifically, light trucks with auto transmissions.
Taylor relates it to the low percentage of car owners who still drive manuals.
“Only 17 per cent of Victorians who sat their licence test in 2014 used a manual vehicle,” Taylor says.
He says factors pushing consumers towards swapping to two pedals in private vehicles, such as ease of use, enhanced comfort and economic benefits, become more compelling when applied to a business trucking context.
“It’s no secret that the trucking industry has a driver shortage,” Taylor continues. “And since the average driver age is 47, filling the necessary spots in the workforce will only become harder as the years progress and more professional drivers retire.
“As such, companies are doing everything they can to broaden the employment pool and attract younger blood.
“To achieve this, many see removing the clutch pedal as a quick and easy option.”
In reference to around-town deliveries, Taylor cites the lessening of manual-specific maintenance costs, such as wear and tear on the clutch and driveline components.
“Two pedal trucks also offer many simple daily savings that certainly add up over time; benefits like the boost in productivity through removing the loss of momentum that occurs during gear changing,” he continues.
“It also means that employees have fewer concerns about less-skilled drivers damaging their engines through over revving.
“This boost may seem inconsequential at first glance, but the Allison transmission, the world’s largest manufacturer of commercialduty automatic transmissions, claims the powered shift of an automatic transmission gains anywhere from four to seven seconds for every 400 metres travelled.
“Over a week of driving, that’s certainly a significant saving.”
He refers to studies out of the US which found that an AMT can provide up to 5 per cent better fuel economy, compared with a manual transmission driven by an average driver.
“For many owner-drivers and small businesses, these kinds of
“It’s no secret that the trucking industry has a driver shortage”
savings are enough to offset the slightly higher upfront costs of an AMT as compared with the manual transmission’s sticker price.
“High resale values also come into play, with two-pedal trucking offering a much greater return.
“What we’re seeing is that a few minutes doing the sums, or a few hours behind the wheel, is enough to convince many of our most diehard manual drivers that the next truck they buy will be an automatic or an AMT.”
These claims coincided with last year’s release of Isuzu’s own automated manual transmission with torque converter, or more simply TC-AMT, in both its F Series and N Series range, with Australia being the first market outside Japan to get a hold of the new technology.
Isuzu says it realises that, particularly with its N Series, the majority of its sales are not to professional drivers, but rather to people that need a truck to carry out their daily work.
It’s all about the transition of moving from car to truck, especially with the under 4.5-tonne GVM car licence-friendly models.
“They step out of their car or ute and step straight into an Isuzu N Series,”Series, Taylor says.
Taylor places emphasis on Isuzu’s ready to work range, including the Service Pack and Trade Pack models.
“Most of these customers are looking for a truck that makes this transition as seamless as possible. They want a car licence truck, a light truck with controls that also look and feel like that of a car.”
An extra innovation and part of the TC AMT package is a new shift lever featuring a ‘P’ position which activates a ‘parking pawl’ at the rear of the transmission, as Isuzu Australia chief engineer Simon Humphries explains.
“It’s not a small piece of mechanics; it’s around 11kg to the total transmission and it’s strong enough to hold a fully laden vehicle on quite a reasonable slope,” Humphries says.
He says the TC-AMT is for all models with the 4JJ1 3-litre engine, including the new NNR 65 150 6.5tonne GVM and the NNR 55/45 5.5tonne GVM which can be de-rated.
Having driven a variety of N Series TC-AMT and manual models in the second half of 2016, the automated manual emerged as a clear winner, owing to the tightness of the manual ’box which was barely run-in. Lead-foot tradies, however, who enjoy moving through the gears and traffic at a rapid pace, may not agree.
Make mine auto: Isuzu’s easy-tooperate TC-AMT
Isuzu’s N Series manual transmission is a little too tight for some