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Q&A with Allison Transmission

By Matthew Beecham | 7 June 2007

Allison Transmission is the world’s largest manufacturer of medium and heavy-duty automatic transmissions. Matthew Beecham talked to Larry Love, director of market development and sales promotion, Allison Transmission in Europe about how new technologies are affecting the market.

Founded in 1915, Allison Transmission now has more transmissions in service than any other supplier, supported by more than 1,700 service outlets that provide support for its customers (vehicle manufacturers and end users) worldwide. It also has more than 600 heavy-duty hybrid transmissions in service, and last year brought the latest evolution of that technology to Europe. 

just-auto:  AMTs are seen as low cost with good fuel consumption. How has this affected your markets and forecasts?

Larry Love:  Allison sales in Europe continue to expand and we anticipate another record year in 2007.  The overall commercial vehicle market in Europe is moving away from manual transmissions to fully automatic transmissions as supplied by Allison and to AMTs.  Although often confused in the mind of the user, they are quite different technologies and offer some different benefits. AMTs are usually cheaper to buy, but overall lifecycle costs can be much higher.  In most drive cycles, the latest electronically-controlled fully automatic provides similar fuel consumption to an AMT, but fully automatic transmissions also deliver uninterrupted power to the wheels, resulting in improved driveability, increased reliability/durability, higher productivity, and enhanced on and off-road performance.

We’ve found that AMTs have won market share in sectors such as articulated lorries, where there is little gear changing, but in more demanding applications including distribution, construction, refuse, emergency and municipal vehicles fully automatic transmissions are winning business by being very controllable and economical to run.

just-auto:  There is a rapidly growing market for trucks in Eastern Europe. What is your strategy there and what are the differences in market requirements?

Larry Love:   Much of the growth in Eastern Europe has been in heavy articulated vehicles, most with manual transmissions.  Our focus in Eastern Europe is expanding Allison sales into rigid trucks in specialist applications such as refuse, fire, construction and distribution.  This is where customers can most easily recognize the value of a fully automatic Allison transmission.  We are securing new Allison releases in many Eastern Europe produced vehicles and developing the local markets for Allison automatic technology.

just-auto:  Fleets are demanding very competitive vehicle prices. How are you justifying the additional cost of a hydraulic automatic?

Larry Love:  Our new and existing customers tell us they buy Allison due to our unrivalled quality, reliability, and durability.  Once a customer buys an Allison, they rarely will accept anything else.  Their purchase justification varies depending upon the application and duty cycle.  For a firetruck it is performance, reliability and safety; in refuse it might be productivity and durability; in construction it is low operating cost and off-road performance, while in distribution its ease of operation, fuel efficiency and productivity.  All sectors benefit from the very high durability and low service costs of a fully automatic and our confidence in our product quality allows us to offer very attractive care plans that help fleets ensure a low and stable maintenance budget.

just-auto:  Is the transmission still a stand-alone sale or is the industry now taking more of a whole-vehicle approach?

Larry Love:  Allison supplies every major OEM in Europe and more than 250 OEMs worldwide.  We work with each one to integrate our fully automatic transmissions into their vehicles so that driveability, economy and user features can all be optimised.  European OEMs are looking at customer demand for transmission technology.  As a result, there is an overall increase in new releases of both fully automatic transmissions and AMTs in the market.

just-auto:  Do you expect hybrid powertrains to change the transmissions market and, if so, how and when?

Larry Love: We have just launched our GM Allison two mode parallel hybrid into the European bus market.  This is the most logical place to start selling hybrid technology due to the high start/stop duty cycle as it can bring significant improvements in both economy and emissions.  Allison has over 600 hybrid buses in revenue service worldwide and recently placed the first European two mode parallel hybrid into a fleet in Dresden, Germany for evaluation. In other sectors, we are seeing interest in areas where there is a lot of start-stop operation and where there are tough noise or emissions requirements. In constant speed sectors like long-haul distribution, where there is limited opportunity to recover braking energy, it’s difficult to see significant near-term hybrid growth.

just-auto:  What type of hybrid powertrain do you see as offering most potential for bus and truck markets? Which applications will see the biggest benefits?

Larry Love:   The GM Allison Hybrid System is the most advanced hybrid technology in the market today.  It has a two-mode compound split parallel hybrid architecture that incorporates two mechanical ranges, an input-split low range and a compound-split high range.  This allows the GM Allison Hybrid System to optimise use of the engine to achieve maximum fuel efficiency across the entire range of operation from start-up to maximum road speed.

In fact, this GM Allison two-mode hybrid technology has been established as the starting point for the GM-DaimlerChrysler-BMW Group Global Hybrid Cooperation, which is developing the world’s first two-mode hybrid system for passenger vehicles.

Benefits are reduced fuel consumption, lower noise and reduced emissions.  Other benefits our customers have seen include high reliability, smooth acceleration, and increased brake life.

just-auto: Can you give an example where fully automatics have won sales against AMTs?

Larry Love:  The distribution market is one of the most cost competitive segments and has very professional fleet managers who monitor their vehicle costs closely.  Allison recently sold a substantial number of fully automatic transmissions into large distribution fleets in France and Sweden that already had experience with AMTs, based on the economic analysis carried out by their fleet managers.