The Transmission Debate

Random Musings
The Transmission Debate

Last month, Auto Tech Review hosted Transmission.tech 2017, the first edition of our annual conferences on automotive transmission technologies. With participation from key stakeholders, senior engineers and subject matter experts from leading OEMs and suppliers, the conference saw some impassioned discussion and debate on current transmission types – MTs, ATs, AMTs, CVTs and DCTs – and what technology is likely to win out in the long run, especially in the Indian context.

Given the fact that I work for an automotive-technology publication, I often meet and interact with a lot of people who are passionate about cars and about driving, and most of these ‘gearheads’ or ‘petrolheads’ say that they still love the good old manual gearbox. They just can’t do without the sheer control that MT provides and would happily trade the convenience of an AT for the more direct responses of the MT. Personally, I tend to disagree. Two decades ago, yes, maybe MT made sense. But now, with the advances made in automatic transmission technologies, using a clutch and shifting gears manually seems to be an antiquated notion.

Automatics haven’t been popular in the Indian market in the past, probably due to these being more expensive and also because the conventional torque-converter automatic doesn’t deliver fuel economy that’s as good as that offered by manual transmission. However, change is afoot. The automated manual transmission (AMT), currently being offered by Maruti, Tata, Mahindra, Nissan and Renault in the Indian market, has been quite a game changer. While it doesn’t offer the smooth, seamless user experience of a conventional automatic and can be a bit ‘jerky’ at times, the AMT still does offer the convenience of AT, with the added benefit of improved fuel economy. No wonder, then, that small car buyers in India are increasingly abandoning the manual gearbox and going in for AMT.

On the other hand, there are some OEMs who are dead against AMTs, saying that it’s a “compromised technology” from the 1970s, and who prefer to stick with ATs, DCTs or CVTs. Each approach has its own pros and cons, of course. Modern CVTs, used by some Japanese manufacturers, are beautifully smooth in operation, efficient, and with recent advances in technology, have reduced levels of the dreaded ‘rubber band effect.’ European OEMs prefer the dual-clutch automatic (DCT), which is expensive and complicated, but provides the fastest, most decisive gear changes. Enthusiasts who demand instant response from the engine/transmission opt for DCT’s aggressive performance over the CVT’s mildmannered smoothness.

Which transmission technology will ‘win’ in the long run is hard to say. ATs were already popular with buyers of bigger, more expensive cars. Now, with the advent of the AMT, smaller / entry-level car buyers in India have also woken up to the benefits of automatic transmission, which will definitely lead to the decline of MT in the coming years.

Sameer Kumar
Executive Editor

@sameerkumar_73