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September 9, 2009 Vol. 5, No. 18

It’s been a mostly gray day here in Battle Creek, Michigan but the folks at Eaton Corp. have been smiling broadly nonetheless. That’s because the long awaited successor to the UltraShift is finally here, albeit in limited quantities, and it seems to pack a very big punch. Haven’t driven it yet – tomorrow — but on paper it’s a killer.

Eaton’s new UltraShift Plus automated transmission looks like it was worth the wait. It’s in the early stages of production now, with a few of the heavier models waiting ’til 2010. The lineup comes to market in three model ranges covering linehaul, performance/severe-service, and vocational/construction applications.

There are seven UltraShift Plus Linehaul Active Shifting (LAS) models, all 10-speeds with two reverse gears, including overdrive and direct-drive options.
The base LAS models are rated at 1450 and 1650 lb ft, with five multi-torque versions as well, good for up to 1650/1850 lb ft. They’re for on-highway use in applications up to 80,000 lb GVW.

On-highway applications are also covered by the 13-speed Multipurpose High Performance (MHP) and the 18-speed Multipurpose Extreme Performance (MXP) models for a variety of applications that can include vocational and severe service as well. There will be nine in all, with three MHP and three MXP models ready this year, in each case rated at 1450, 1650 and 1850 lb ft. In 2010 we’ll see a 13- and an 18-speed box with a 2050-lb-ft capacity, plus an 18-speed good for 2250 lb ft. The 13s get three reverse gears, the 18 has four.

The Vocational Construction Series (VCS) offers 10 speeds with either 1450 or 1650 lb ft capacity. The Vocational Multipurpose Series (VMS) comes in 11-speed form, again with ratings of 1450 or 1650 lb ft. And the Vocational Extreme Performance (VXP) 18-speed is available this year with 1450, 1650, or 1850 lb ft, with two more models arriving next year for heavier work with 2050 and 2250 lb ft ratings.

Of all these new models, only one weighs more than 1000 lb. The LAS models come in at 915 lb, the MHP/MXP at 995 lb, and the VCS/VMS/VXP at 955, 975, or 995 lb. The VXP 2250 weighs 1045 lb.

Depending on the model, you can spec deep reduction and high-speed reverse for highway construction and general dump applications, very deep reduction for redi-mix curb-pouring operations where very good low-speed maneuverability is required, or maximum power and gradeability for extreme applications.

Considering the whole lineup, the most obvious change – and very much for the better — is the replacement of the old centrifugal clutch with a conventional two-plate ceramic clutch. It’s electronically controlled and operated by an electric-motor-driven planetary gear arrangement mounted on the bell housing. It takes its marching orders solely from the transmission’s ECM on a separate communications loop. It’s isolated from the rest of the J1939 data bus so the truck will always have clutch release capability– even in the event of an ECM failure. Included in the assembly is an inertia brake, replacing the traditional clutch brake.

It’s a true two-pedal automated gearbox but functions like a traditional three-pedal affair. The two-plate clutch disengages on every shift in the lower gears, without the driver’s input. The electronic controller actually feathers the clutch — taking its cue from throttle pedal position — as a driver would when, say, backing under a trailer. This should mean a vast improvement from the rorty torty and sometimes unpredictable behavior of the centrifugal clutch used in its predecessor.

The electronic controls for the shifting sequence are much more refined than in previous models, too. The transmission can calculate the weight of the truck, and a new inclinometer can sense grade, both starting out and on the fly. It’s sensitive to pedal position, as well, so will respond with economy or performance shifting based on throttle application — rather than with the push of a button.

One other terrific new feature is the hill-start aid, intended to prevent roll back when starting in a grade — up or down. It uses the vehicle’s ABS system to hold and then release the brakes, based again on throttle position. The brakes are applied normally with the foot valve, but the ABS system takes a cue from the transmission ECM and hold the brake on between the time the brake pedal is released and the throttle is applied. The two-plate clutch ensures a smooth and controlled launch, while the ABS releases the brake gradually as the clutch engages. The brakes will remain applied for no more than three seconds after release. This is to prevent drivers from using this feature as a parking brake.

In terms of performance, I’m guessing the UltraShift Plus will leave its predecessor well and truly in the dust. Improved electronics and faster calculations of weight, speed, grade, etc. should allow fast and accurate progressions through the gears. And with the aid of the inertia brake, I’ll bet that it will downshift faster than any driver could manage on even the steepest grade.

When the engine retarder is engaged, the transmission goes to a more aggressive downshift sequence to maximize braking performance.

Among other features, torque-lock has been eliminated. When keyed-off, or when the brakes are applied by the dash valve, of if the spring brakes apply, the transmission goes to neutral automatically. But if the brakes are released and the truck is free to roll, the transmission will select the lowest possible gear to prevent a run-away condition.

From a driver’s point of view, the interface is as simple as ever, with button shifting in drive, reverse, manual and low or creep modes. Manual override is always possible.

I have to pursue the question of UltraShift Plus availability a little bit more. As I understand it presently, the transmission is only fully engineered into the International chassis as we speak. More detail to follow on that one, but others surely can’t be far behind as this, I expect, will be a popular transmission choice.

Second-hand reports tell me that Lafarge Canada drivers, for example, are happy campers. The cement company has had some 50 pre-production UltraShift Plus trannies in use for quite a while, certainly the largest field-test allocation up here in the Great White North.

Tomorrow, the test track, so two weeks from now in this space, some driving impressions. I’m actually kind of excited.

THE 2010 PICTURE FILLS IN A LITTLE MORE EACH DAY, and now we know about almost all engine surcharges. Hino, for example, tells us that it’s adding a US$6700 surcharge to the base price of its 2010 class 4-7 truck lineup to cover the cost of selective catalytic reduction (SCR).

And Daimler Trucks North America now says a US$9000 surcharge will be added to trucks with the Cummins ISX15 engine and SCR emissions technology. That’s the same as the previously announced surcharge for Detroit Diesel DD15 and DD16 big-bore engines and the smaller DD13. Trucks with the Cummins ISC8.3 engine will get dinged US$7300 and the Cummins ISB6.7 will bring a US$6700 upcharge.

Volvo long ago said it would charge US$9600 extra for SCR-equipped trucks

Navistar, the sole user of EGR for 2010, will get US$8000 for big trucks equipped with MaxxForce 11- and 13-liter engines, and US$6000 for medium-duty models with MaxxForce 7-, 7.6-, 9- and 10-liter engines.

What about Kenworth and Peterbilt? No word yet.

A WEEK OR SO BACK VOLVO demonstrated a typical diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) fill using a typical truckstop pump made by Gilbarco Veeder-Root. A neighbor to Volvo in Greensboro, NC, the company probably has a lock on fuel-dispensing equipment around the world. The truck was an EPA2010-ready, production-level truck built online at Volvo’s New River Valley Plant in Dublin, Virginia.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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