We get a chance to look at the technology behind some of the best automatic gearboxes in the world with the company that produces them – ZF. And, we also get our hands on the first 9-speed Evoque to land in India.
As much as most enthusiasts might love their manual gearboxes, there is a slowly a change taking place in the automotive realm, people are beginning to prefer automatic gearboxes to manual ones. Even in India – a market traditionally averse to automatics – people are beginning to see the convenience that automatic gearboxes bring to their commutes, more so in the urban areas where traffic snarls are a way of life. Nowhere is this more evident than the recent launch of the Maruti Celerio where over 50% of the total bookings were for the automatic version.
In such a scenario, the role of transmission specialists like ZF becomes all the more important for they are the stalwarts in this field. This is affirmed the moment one gets a chance to sample the company’s products, in fact, one of our favourites – the 8-speed transmission fitted in many European cars – is a ZF product. But that particular gearbox is designed primarily for rear-wheel drive use, and ZF used the opportunity of this technology day held in Pune to showcase their latest transmission – the 9-speed automatic.
Designed for front-wheel drive, transverse engine applications, the first car in India to get this gearbox fitted as standard is the Range Rover Evoque, which was announced at the Auto Expo in February. We got a chance to drive the Evoque, and on the road the new transmission is extremely responsive when in manual mode and the gearshifts are fast on both full and part throttle. When left to its devices the ‘box shifts seamlessly up and down the gears, in fact it increases the drivability and the throttle response of the Evoque with its various ratios providing enough flexibility. Not to mention that the efficiency of the Evoque also goes up with the new gearbox.
It is a fact that consumers often don’t understand that a lot of credit for technological development in automobiles goes to large component suppliers like ZF, which is one of the ten biggest suppliers to automotive companies in the world. And it is their dedicated spend on technology, development and new materials that drive a lot of progress for manufacturers across the board. Which is important since other than gearboxes, ZF also develops various components such as steering systems, suspension components and chassis components. And ZF is also a supplier to almost all major manufacturers including Tata Motors, for which the company developed a brand new column mounted power steering system, which has been introduced in the Nano Twist.
And having sampled many of their systems, we can only wish to see such companies developing more and more technology that will contribute to the development of future vehicles and make them fun to drive as well as more efficient.
At the ZF Technology Day, Ishan Raghava spoke to ZF India Managing Director, Mr. Piyush Munot about the latest trends in the automotive industry including the automated manual transmission, and the future of automatic transmissions in India.
What is your take on the new trend of Automated Manual Transmissions (AMT) in small cars?
I think it’s a step in the right direction, a positive development, because our market is dominated by manual transmissions due to the false perceptions I believe, that exist with users and drivers, that an automatic transmission would be not only expensive but also would be fuel inefficient and have a high maintenance cost. We’ve proven over the years that automatic transmissions – including AMT’s, which is a cost effective solution – offers the possibility to be less driver dependent as far as efficiency of the vehicle is concerned but be more product dependent. So, the automatic transmission of the AMT has the right setup to actuate the right gears at the right time with the right torque and therefore bring the most out of the vehicle.
Are you working on AMT system yourself for the Indian market?
Well to be honest, we have been offering AMT’s since the early 90’s in Europe. Leading global manufacturers such as VW, Peugeot, Renault, Citroen, Smart and Saab who are known for their products in the small car segments, and are also supplying into the emerging markets, are customers of ours. And we’ve made more than a million actuation systems for these customers all over the world. In India, yes we are pursuing the technology and we’re working towards finalizing a project. Whether we produce them in India or not depends on the volumes though.
What are the advantages of the AMT system over a regular automatic transmission?
AMT’s are cost efficient. The product offers you at a very nominal price a feature that the customer can afford. It would bring about better fuel efficiency than even manual transmission due to the superior efficiency calculations in the control system. And it reduces the fatigue level of the driver, which is there especially in stop and go conditions where the constant gear shifting and clutch use can be quite discomforting. But with an AMT, the driver will not have to change the gears and this will lower the fatigue level and improve safety due to reduced fatigue.
Do you think automatic transmission on a whole will gain further traction in the Indian market?
I think if you look at it globally, the US is a purely automatic market. The Chinese market is also highly dominated by automatics, and even Europe also very high on automatic usage. So, I do not have a reason to believe that India will remain only a manual gearbox market. Yes, manuals will not disappear in India, but what Indian consumers are very sensitive about is the cost part of an automatic. Unless the buyer, the end user, really sees benefit in a fully automatic transmission, its not going to be possible for automatics to grow in that segment. But if you look at luxury vehicles, they are all fitted with automatic transmissions.
Do you think we’ll see AMT’s being fitted to bigger products such as mid-sized sedans?
Well I think AMT’s are absolutely right for the A & B segment of vehicles but in the higher category of vehicles, one needs to wait and evaluate whether those products will be efficient in performance when fitted with AMT’s.