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Coming to North America: Volvo’s I-Shift automated tranny

SAVANNAH, Ga. - With the trucking industry gradually warming up to the idea of automated transmissions, Volvo has re-engineered its popular I-Shift automated mechanical transmission for the North Amer...


SAVANNAH, Ga. – With the trucking industry gradually warming up to the idea of automated transmissions, Volvo has re-engineered its popular I-Shift automated mechanical transmission for the North American market.

The I-Shift was introduced across the pond in 2002 and since then more than 80,000 have been sold. Volvo has sold about 19,000 I-Shifts in Europe during the first half of 2006 alone. Volvo officials feel the transmission’s ability to improve productivity, attract drivers and save fuel will ensure it’s equally well-received here in North America.

Three models of the I-Shift will be available for delivery in the second quarter of 2007. Each features 12 forward speeds and two-pedal operation. The AT2512C and ATO2512C are for use with Volvo’s D11 and D13 engines while the ATO3112C is designed for Volvo’s D16. Each of the transmissions weighs in at 610 lbs or less, the company says.

They can be used in applications with GVWs of up to 110,000 lbs.

“We believe customers will immediately recognize the advantages I-Shift offers for productivity, lower cost of operation, driver recruitment and retention,” says Scott Kress, senior vice-president of sales and marketing with Volvo.

Volvo will continue offering the Eaton UltraShift automated mechanical transmission, but there are benefits to vertical integration that should not be ignored, says Kress.

“The truck, the engine and the transmission have all been engineered and designed to work as one integrated, exceptionally efficient machine,” he explains. “Customers can always get the perfect ratio at the right time for optimal engine and vehicle performance, which means a higher degree of productivity, fuel economy and reliability.”

Unique to the I-Shift is a feature called Eco-Roll which allows drivers to save fuel while operating in top gear. The system automatically disengages the engine when the truck is rolling down long, slight downhill grades which require no torque input. The engine is re-engaged when: the driver touches the brake; the speed reaches the engine brake set speed for cruise control; the driver touches the engine brake control stalk; the driver applies the throttle; or if the truck surpasses a pre-set speed limit.

Bo Hammerlid, product marketing manager with Volvo, compares the functionality of Eco-Roll to riding a bicycle downhill. He reasons that coasting down hills rather than pedaling saves energy – in this case fuel.

“No other transmission can save you fuel in top gear,” Hammerlid points out, noting most highway tractors operate in top gear 90% of the time.

A direct drive option allows customers to further reduce their fuel consumption, the company claims. I-Shifts ordered with direct drive enable the output shaft to tie directly to the input shaft when operating in top gear. This results in less power loss due to friction mating between gears, the company says. The result is a further 1.5% fuel savings.

The I-Shift also features a lube oil pump that pumps oil through drilled passageways rather than simply immersing the gears in grease. Volvo officials say this reduces parasitic demand on the vehicle as much as 2-3 horsepower, resulting in even greater fuel economy.

Customers can spec’ the I-Shift with an optional kick-down switch on the accelerator pedal which gives the driver some additional acceleration power which comes in handy while passing or merging.

The I-Shift can be operated in Economy or Performance mode. In Economy mode, the transmission selects the ideal shift points for maximum fuel economy. In Performance mode, gradeability is maximized. When Performance mode is not required, the transmission automatically switches back to Economy mode to get the best possible fuel mileage.

Truck News recently had the opportunity to test the I-Shift on a grand prix track in Savannah, Ga. The difference between Economy and Performance mode was noticeable – particularly when starting from a complete stop. In Performance mode, the VN had more get-up-and-go than in Economy mode, but while cruising it was difficult to discern any difference.

The transmission shifted smoothly between gears and made for an enjoyable driving experience. For those drivers who feel they’re not really driving the truck if they’re not shifting, the transmission features a manual override option allowing drivers to select their own gears. But the transmission will intervene if a driver threatens to damage the engine, such as starting from a high gear. When I tried to trick the transmission by starting out in eighth gear, the transmission refused to do as it was told and instead displayed a warning sign on the dash display.

Another mode available on the I-Shift is Idle Governor – ideal for traffic jams or stop-and-go driving. This mode allows the engine to operate at idle without using the accelerator pedal, for optimum fuel economy. It automatically selects the gear the best suits the speed of traffic. The driver can move up or down a gear by tapping the accelerator or brake pedal. Volvo officials say the I-Shift will be priced competitively with other automated mechanical transmissions.

An aluminum case also makes it very competitive from a weight standpoint, Hammerlid says. It comes with a five-year/750,000 mile warranty when spec’d with engines with 1,750 lb.-ft. of torque or less and a three-year/500,000 mile warranty for higher torque engines.


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