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Eaton’s Been Down That Road Before

MONTREAL, Que. - While Allison is the first major transmission company to commercialize IVTs, it's certainly not the first one to have contemplated this option. As early as 1989, manual transmission m...


MONTREAL, Que. –While Allison is the first major transmission company to commercialize IVTs, it’s certainly not the first one to have contemplated this option. As early as 1989, manual transmission maker Eaton was looking at developing this kind of automatic transmission for trucks. Truck News confirmed this information with Wayne Higashi, president and CEO of a California-based company called Epilogics.

Just like Torotrak, Epilogics is a licensing company. It does research and development but doesn’t commercialize the applications of its findings. It sells the manufacturing licence to another corporate entity, in this case Eaton.

Epilogics’ president told us: “In 1989, Eaton Corp., the largest manufacturer of heavy-duty transmissions in North America, licensed the IVT for heavy-duty truck transmission applications. They paid us a million dollars in license fees and committed to a 5% royalty payment on sales of transmissions utilizing our IVT technology. After five years of development effort, Eaton failed to build a commercially viable prototype transmission based on this technology and abandoned the project.”

When asked why it didn’t work out, Higashi explains: “Eaton had technical problems with robustness/durability that would require the transmission to be much larger and heavier (and more expensive) than needed for commercialization.”

Since then, Epilogics has been working on different projects, such as this one: “One of the technologies developed for the IVT, the Mechanical Diode one-way clutch, was licensed to Means Industries and was used in Ford’s rear drive passenger car and light truck transmissions from 1997 to 2007 -15 million units shipped over a 10-year period with zero defects!”

When asked about its experience with IVTs, an Eaton spokesperson declined to comment. Yet, a couple of weeks earlier, an internal source at Eaton said “To the best of my knowledge, we aren’t really working on this technology anymore.”

And the rest is history. Eaton decided to focus on its core expertise: mechanical transmissions. A few years later, the AutoShift was born. It’s an automated manual transmission that only requires the use of the clutch to launch the vehicle and to stop it. The rest of the time gears are changed without any intervention by the driver. A second generation was called the UltraShift. Once again, the gear changes were automated but the improvement was that there was no more clutch to activate, only two pedals: the throttle and brake. And recently, Eaton launched its third generation AMT, this time called the UltraShift Plus, with features that get it closer than ever to a “real” automatic transmission.


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