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Indian transmission manufacturers face control system challenges

Mike Savage of Drive System Design reflects on the challenges Indian transmission suppliers face to meet demand for increasingly sophisticated products

Increasing demand for automated and semi-automated transmissions in developing markets such as India presents new challenges for local suppliers and OEMs. Having made the transition from supplying on a ‘make to print’ basis to full Tier 1 status, transmission suppliers must now master the issues surrounding control system engineering, while local OEMs must compete with joint ventures supported by know-how from overseas partners.

The appetite for technologies such as AMTs (automated manual transmissions) is fuelled by a combination of factors. The convenience of automatic shifting makes driving less tiresome in crowded urban conditions, but the high cost of fuel deters buyers from choosing a conventional torque converter automatic. It is also in the manufacturers’ interests to develop AMTs because it provides an automatic option that can be delivered using existing manual transmission manufacturing facilities.

The new Maruti Suzuki Celerio, with its AMT branded as EZ Drive, is one of the first to reach the market; other OEMs include Mahindra, which has launched the Quanto autoSHIFT, and Tata, which has announced that it will soon make AMT available on all models. All promise the fuel economy of a manual transmission with the convenience of an automatic.

One of the keys to market acceptance lies in effective control of the AMT, including design of the shift control algorithms and strategy, implementation of each shift event and calibration of the software to suit a range of different operating conditions. Though the Indian automotive industry has considerable software expertise, direct experience of engine and transmission control systems is scarce. Few engineers in the region possess the practical calibration experience required to structure a suitable development programme and deliver a robust and validated solution.

Local companies without the support of experienced partners are investing in technology transfer from specialist engineering consultancies, in order to grow their capability in this area. Their initial goal is to secure market share within their domestic region but, in the longer term, the expertise gained will support a thrust into more mature export markets. In this respect, Indian manufacturers have much in common with those from other developing markets, such as China.

AMTs also have great appeal to heavy vehicle operators, where in Europe, USA and Japan it is now the norm to specify such a transmission in heavy trucks and buses. The systems are proven to save fuel and reduce whole life costs as they also help prevent driveline damage from driver abuse. The Indian market is still focused on initial purchase price, so AMT sales are limited to specialist imported vehicles, but all Indian truck makers have AMT development programmes in process. It’s only a matter of time before AMT-equipped trucks will be seen on Indian roads.

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