Given the recent advances in automotive transmission technology, and the increasing uptake of automated manual transmission on entry-level hatchbacks in the Indian market, Auto Tech Review recently organised the first edition of Transmission.tech 2017. During this conference, held on 11 April in New Delhi, experts from leading automotive OEMs and suppliers got together for a technical discussion and debate on transmission technologies and future directions for the same. Key focus areas included current trends in the adoption of various transmission types (MT, AT, AMT, CVT and DCT), developments in the domestic market vis-à-vis the global market, and factors of cost, efficiency and affordability.
DEBATING THE INDIAN SCENARIO
The Indian passenger vehicle market still, by and large, favours manual transmission, partially due to various myths about AT not being suitable for 'Indian roads' and 'Indian traffic conditions,' as well as the fact that AT-equipped vehicles are not as fuel efficient as their MT-equipped variants. With the advent of the automated manual transmission, which offers most of the convenience and ease of use of the conventional torque-converter type AT, without hurting fuel economy and at a relatively lower price point, things are beginning to change in India, and even buyers of smaller, entry-level cars are now increasingly opting for AMTs. 'With today's emerging markets being the growth areas of tomorrow, various estimates point to the new target markets altering the relative composition of the global automotive industry in the next 10 to 15 years. This is a significant observation, as at least three fundamental approaches to achieving automatic power delivery are available today. However, none of them has been assimilated to any significant extent in the emerging regions of the automotive industry worldwide,' said Jitendra B Divgi, Managing Director, Divgi-TTS, during his keynote address. He also mentioned that advances in stepped automatics using hydrodynamic planetary configurations (conventional ATs) currently compete with AMTs, CVTs and DCTs. 'Which of these technologies is most suitable depends on the overall value proposition that can be offered to the consumer in terms of price, fuel economy, pleasing performance and a certain standard of durability and reliability,' he added.
Speakers agreed that while all kinds of AT technology is readily available, getting the cost-quality ratio right is a key challenge, especially in the Indian context. While automatic transmission has been around for more than 70 years, cost is still restraining factor and in the Indian context, as long as AT kits are being imported, costs are not likely to come down. On the other hand, what's encouraging is that competition in the world's second largest automotive market has buoyed hardware and software development, with OEMs around the world having set up operations in India to develop tailor-made solutions for this market.
'In the next five years, DCT and CVT will grow with more than 5 % per year. Manual transmissions [will also keep growing] due to high demand in emerging countries. Dedicated hybrid transmissions will enter the market in 2019-20 and will grow with double digit numbers,' said Gregoire Cuny, Head of BU Transmission Asia and Managing Director, Continental Asia. 'MT will remain mainstream but will continue to lose market share until 2025. There will be increased AMT penetration due to similar fuel efficiency and cost as MT – Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra, Renault and Tata have launched AMTs, which will fuel growth for AMTs in India in the future. DCT will grow, given similarity in architecture with MT and a natural next step for efficiency [however], AT penetration will remain quite low due to cost and technology barriers. CVT has already been introduced by Nissan and Maruti Suzuki. However, its growth will be slow and it will account for less than 2 % share in 2025. Advances in DCT and CVT technology is expected to bring down their price [however], AMT would continue being an economical path to automation, especially in lower vehicle segments,' added Dhruv Chhabra, Senior Consultant - Strategic Consulting, Ricardo India.
Anoop Bhatt, Vice President Engineering, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, was of the opinion that AMTs offer the perfect blend of convenience, comfort and affordability for most Indian car owners, especially in the smaller, entry level car segment. Globally, CVTs and DCTs are dominating most markets and with technology adoption happening rapidly in India, local OEMs might follow suit over the coming years.
According to Dhruv Chhabra, Senior Consultant - Strategic Consulting, Ricardo India, MTs will remain the preferred choice in India, but will continue to lose market share until 2025. There will be Increased AMT penetration due to similar fuel efficiency and cost to MT. DCT will grow, given similarity in architecture with MT and a natural next step for efficiency. However, AT will remain quite low in terms of acceptability due to cost and technology barriers. While A- and B-segment will witness increasing penetration of AMTs, DCTs will grow share in C-segment due to efficiency. Automated transmissions will take a larger share of the low volume D/E- segments, as shift quality and refinement are key requirements.
THE COMMERCIAL VEHICLE SPACE
As per views expressed by industry experts during the Transmission.tech 2017 Conference, the commercial vehicle space has kept pace with developments in the passenger vehicle segment in terms of transmission technology. In many cases, the internal combustion (IC) engines doing duty on CVs today generate usable torque and power in a narrow rev range, making the efficiency zone of the engine quite narrow. An efficient transmission system extracts maximum power and torque as required, during varied driving conditions and payload settings, without hurting fuel economy, thus making it a critical component in CV operations.
Modern day CV transmission systems are, in fact, equipped with improved gear analysis tools, better manufacturing control and optimised gear geometry, which reduces operational losses and internal friction levels. Reiterating the advantages offered by current transmission service providers, Alok Muley, Senior Manager – Transmission Design, VC Commercial Vehicles, said that with cost-effective utilisation of available technology, transmission developers can ensure improved vehicle life and better efficiency for a commercial vehicle in the long run. With BS IV regulations being made mandatory for CVs, a transmission that helps the engine operate at higher efficiency levels is the need of the hour, and is the goal for suppliers working towards next-generation transmission systems for CVs. Manual transmission units still cater to the majority of CV transmission requirements in India, as they can be adapted to various applications with high modularity. With the use of component and system level validation, time to market can also be reduced. However, with increased demands for ease of use in this sector, the AMT is also likely to make increased inroads into this segment over the coming years. 'Transmission manufacturers today need to develop a ground-up design based on domestic requirements, instead of importing the unit, which provides lower levels of customisation. A 6-speed unit is ideally suited for Indian CV requirements and it should be in tune with the engine characteristics,' said Surendar Shawn Paul, Head of Drivelines & PMO Engineering, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.
The proceedings at Transmission.tech2017 were wrapped up with a panel discussion, which focussed on the road ahead for automotive transmissions in India and the technology adoption required for the future. It delved into the timeline by when India would be fully prepared to have ATs across all vehicle formats. IV Rao, Executive Advisor, Maruti Suzuki India, said that he expects the Indian automotive industry to take another 10 years for this paradigm shift to happen. Sajid Mubashir, Member-Secretary, DHI-DST Technology Platform for Electric Mobility (TPEM), added that as India could outsource AT technology, but would have to develop the capability to manufacture AT units in the country in order to bring costs down, and encourage widespread adoption. 'The challenge is to develop and have the hardware modules ready, so that once the domestic capacities are in place, the hardware-software amalgamation can happen immediately,' he said.
TOP FIVE TRENDS
1. Transmissions that can provide the convenience of an automatic, but at a significantly lower price point and without hurting fuel efficiency, to gain widespread popularity. In this context, users will go for cheaper AMTs despite the actual driving experience not being as good as CVTs and DCTs.
2. Small, entry-level hatchbacks to drive the development and refinement of AMT technology, which is expected to see widespread adoption over the next five years. With AMT adoption rates already as high as 33 % in some entry-level cars (for example: Maruti Celerio), the rate is expected to go up to 66 % by the year 2020 for small cars in that segment.
3. While AMTs will be popular on smaller, entry-level cars, for higher-end products, other forms of automatic transmission will prevail, while the manual transmission will continue to decline in popularity and usage. Also, there may be a decline in the popularity of the conventional torque-converter AT, with DCTs and CVTs finding greater usage.
4. Fuel saving start-stop systems ideally need at least an AMT, and preferably other, higher-end ATs for smooth, seamless functioning. With start-stop expected to become mandatory for passenger vehicles in most countries over the next five years, the manual transmission is expected to see further decline in demand.
5. From 2019-20 onwards, plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles are expected gain much bigger scale and mass-market momentum, which will drive further innovation in the area of automotive transmission. With full EVs and also certain types of hybrids, where the IC engine is never directly driving the vehicle's wheels and motive power is always provided by the electric motor, the conventional transmission, as we know it now, is likely to disappear altogether.