'AMT technology has found widespread appeal'

'AMT technology has found widespread appeal'
Driving a car is not a cake walk. That too, looking at the chaotic traffic conditions in India, first-time buyers especially will have a tough time with frequent gear changes.

Carmakers seems to have found a solution. In a bid to woo customers, they have come up with automated manual transmission (AMT).

In an email interaction with Deccan Herald’s Umesh M Avvannavar, the country's largest car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki’s spokesperson explains the nuts and bolts of AMT technology.

What is AMT? How is it different from manual transmission and other automatic transmissions?

Auto Gear Shift or automated manual transmission (AMT), is equipped with Intelligent Shift Control Actuator, an electric-hydraulic actuator that automatically performs clutch and shift operations.

Auto Gear Shift combines the actuator and controller and directly mounts them in the transmission in order to unify the working components. This permits synchronised control over the clutch, shifting, and engine, for smoother gear changes. It combines the advantages of both manual and automatic transmissions.

The AMT system, in contrast to most automatic gearboxes, does not come with a torque converter or the complex dual-clutch set-up. In fact, it is identical to the conventional manual gearbox. What gives it the automatic functioning is the electro-hydraulic mechanism that helps shift gears according to the speed at which the engine is running.
It also comes with a different electronic control unit, which ensures optimal engine performance and the timing of the gear shift, than the one used in a manual car.

 Identifying Auto Gear Shift The gear box is neatly labelled where ‘N’ stands for Neutral, ‘D’ for Drive, ‘R’ denotes Reverse, and ‘M’ means Manual mode. In manual mode, there are options of ‘+’ to upshift gears and ‘-’ which is used to downshift gears.

Switching on: Ensure car is in neutral. Press the brake pedal. Crank up the engine (if the car is not in neutral and brake pedal is not pressed, the car will not start. This is to ensure safety).

Drive Mode: The user presses the brake pedal and puts the gear lever in D position. The car sets in motion by virtue of creep function with the release of brake. The speed of the car can be changed by pressing or releasing the accelerator pedal.

In D mode, the most appropriate gear is automatically selected by the Auto Gear Shift system, based on the operation of the accelerator pedal and vehicle speed.
With the increase in speed, the car moves up to a higher gear, the highest being the fifth gear.

Optimum vehicle performance and fuel economy is obtained by smoothly/lightly pressing and releasing the accelerator pedal. Aggressive pressing of the accelerator pedal will result in gear shifting at higher engine RPM (revolution per minute) which may adversely impact the fuel economy.

Manual Mode: To add to the flexibility, the Auto Gear Shift transmission also offers a manual mode. For shifting to manual mode, one has to simply shift the gear lever to M position. 

Gear shifting is achieved by pushing the lever to the ‘+’ and ‘-’ for upshifting and downshifting respectively. Even while driving, the drive mode can be shuffled between D and M modes.

 Stopping the car: Pressing the brake reduces the speed of the car. The gears shift down automatically. When the vehicle comes to a complete halt, press the brake pedal and shift the lever to N or neutral.

It is crucial to check position of gear on the instrument cluster display to ensure it is in neutral. Switch off engine and engage parking brake.

What are the advantages of AMT technology, compared with other types of transmissions?

Some of the advantages of AMT technology are:

Easy driving: Because clutch pedal and gearshift operations by the driver are not necessary, and thanks to the creep function at the start, Auto Gear Shift makes driving easy even when parking, and during traffic congestion.

 Excellent fuel efficiency: As the basic structure is manual transmission, its fuel efficiency is equivalent to manual transmission. Also, optimal gearshift operation controlled by the computer helps improve fuel efficiency.

Fun driving: Manual mode can be selected to enjoy driving, enabling the driver to shift gears at will, just like manual transmission. Delivers fun driving from the synergistic effect with direct drive feeling of a manual transmission.

There are a lot of doubts that customers tend to have when adopting new ideas such as AMT. Some feel that there will be reduction in mileage of cars? What are your thoughts on this?

So far as fuel efficiency goes, statistics speak for themselves. The newly launched Alto K10AGS is one of the most fuel-efficient cars in India giving a fuel efficiency of 24.07 km/l similar to manual petrol, while the Celerio AMT version returns a fuel efficiency of 23.1 km/l,  same as the manual petrol version.

Therefore, there is no truth behind the perception of lowering fuel efficiency.
So far as customer adoption is concerned, any new product or technology takes some time to establish itself in the market. Maruti Suzuki had the first-mover advantage in this technology and customer response has been outstanding.

Going by the numbers, it can be said that AMT technology has found widespread appeal across geographies. Certain pockets like NCR, Mumbai, Gujarat and South India have responded very positively and the acceptance of AMT is much higher than average in these regions. AMT penetration is slowly increasing in other markets as well. 

Certain discerning customers looking for ease of driving and those who have had exposure to this technology during their stint in international markets like the Gulf, US or UK, are more receptive.

How many of your products have automatic transmission technology? How much percentage of your cars sold are contributed by those with AMT?

Maruti’s models running on AGS are — Celerio and Alto K10. Initially it was expected that the automatic version would account for 25 per cent in Celerio. However, it continues to clock a much higher figure of 40 per cent. 

In FY 2013-14, the company sold 2,800 units, which rose to over 30,000 units in FY 2014-15. For sure, by virtue of exposure to technology, the South has responded extremely well.

The acceptability of AMT technology is high in markets like Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and all Southern markets — Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kochi. Nationally, of the total Celerios sold in FY 2014-15, 35 per cent was AGS trim.

Some of the cities have shown above national trend such as Bengaluru (56 per cent), Kochi (53 per cent), Hyderabad (47 per cent), and Chennai (45 per cent).

Who are the buyers or potential customers for AMT in India?

The potential customers for AMT cars in India are usually well informed and well-travelled with some exposure to  international technology. The Celerio’s offering of an automatic variant at a competitive price point in the mass segment has come as a boon for many, given city driving conditions.

Also, for those who have just started driving, the technology is much easier to handle. Auto gear shift is also popular among women customers. Combine with the fact that it is affordable and does not compromise on fuel efficiency, this technology has found wide appeal.

What is the future of AMT in India? What is the size of this segment and the growth projection?

We see the trend growing in the near future. The technology is well suited to Indian driving conditions and brings convenience to customers. Previous surveys done by Maruti Suzuki had shown that 40-50 per cent of prospective buyers were willing to pay up to Rs 40,000 more for an automatic car.

That number dropped substantially when the premium was increased to Rs 60,000. Also, customers didn’t want any compromise on fuel efficiency.  As Auto Gear Shift fulfils all these expectations, there was a latent demand which MSIL has fulfilled. Other OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) would also like to bring new models with such technology.

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