Truck Transmissions Shift Into High Gear

Short of a truck that can actually drive itself, the next best thing is an easy shifter transmission that shifts itself. Garbage truck drivers, who stop and start frequently and put heavy mileage on their vehicles, are heading up the de-mand for easy-shift offerings from truck manufacturers.

Allison Division of General Motors is a major American maker of truck automatics. The company reports overall increased sales and a successful response to its new World family of automatics, a unit which can be used in Class 8 refuse trucks.

Since the introduction of initial advanced World transmissions models in 1991, "they have sold faster than we thought they would," said Larry Love, account manager. The line has been filled out with introductions over the last few years. The heavy-duty (HD) models, their top selection for use in Class 8 refuse trucks, are recent additions.

A medium-duty (MD) series preceded the HDs. In refuse work, the MDs were issued in trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings up to 60,000 pounds. Love said that close-ratio versions of the transmissions do the best work in refuse collection.

Hardware from other manufacturers is scoring big points with truck users as well.

Ceemat automated mechanical gear boxes, products of the Fuller line of transmissions from Eaton Corp., appear to have found new homes among refuse truck transmissions.

Spicer Transmission Division of Dana Corp. has been developing easy shifter products for years. Like Eaton, it has been studying prospective demand and checking on a sound introduction time.

The newest Spicer gear box is the Auto-Mate-2, a 10-speed electronic transmission in which the top two gear shifts are made automatically.

Like most other current facets of the au-tomotive business in the United States, there is an international trade angle to current easy-shifter developments.

For example, Zahnradfabrik Fried-richshafen (ZF), a German component supplier whose initials are as well known to Europeans as AT&T is to Americans, recently opened a sales office in the Chicago area.

Peterbilt already offers ZF automatics in Class 8 models, according to Rick Moore, marketing manager. Other producers are testing the gear boxes which can be used in weight classes from four through eight.

The extra cost of easy shifters, worries about finding convenient service for an unusual component and concern about driver reaction have been high on the list of reasons for steering clear of automatic transmissions. Officials from fleets that use easy shifters, however, indicate that the fears have proved groundless.

Bennie Anselmo, a vice president of Norcal Solid Waste Systems, uses Allison transmissions in some of its 1,600 vehicles in the service area around San Francisco. He has en-joyed reduced repair expenses and ease of driving in the hilly city, noting that the trucks make 500 stops every day.

Eaton Ceemats are being specified in all of the new units purchased by Burdidge Disposal of Salt Lake City. "You can't beat the 100-percent warranty on both labor and parts," said David Burdidge, who has been im-pressed with the company's service support.

"Our drivers like the good control they have on hills," he added. Burdidge is convinced that the reduced service expense makes up for the extra cost of the Ceemats.

On the East Coast, according to Randy Toop, fleet and facilities maintenance manager at P. T. Con-tainer Co. in the Boston area, two incoming new units have Cee-mats. The company is thinking about retrofitting its older trucks with the same type of gear box, he added.

As manufacturers produce new lines and costs come down, the ref-use truck industry is finding that easy-shift transmissions are a good bet.