Automated Manual Transmission – The Eureka Moment for the India’s Automotive Scene

Rahul Devnath
Published: May 2014

The much awaited AMT comes to India and the car manufacturers targeting the Indian market are going all out to embrace it.

With the closing of yet another financial year, the automotive aficionado in the country look forward to the very desirable Auto Expo. For the uninitiated, Auto Expo is a biennial automotive show held in New Delhi, India. It is largest in Asia and stands second largest in the world! With every edition, the Auto Expo gets bigger and the Auto Expo 2014 was no exception. With India’s significance growing as an automobile market for both global and Indian players, the number of debuts was higher than ever before. Clearly, the slowdown in sales did not deter those set on wooing the Indian consumers.

If you haven’t been living under rocks, chances are there that you have heard about the buzz in the 2014 edition of Auto Expo- the Maruti Suzuki’s new, Celerio hatchback, which replaces a plethora of cars from Maruti’s stable. The stakes are high for Maruti, which has taken a bold step in bringing out the Celerio, a milestone in many regards, but more on that later. This car is arguably the biggest launch of the Expo. But more than just being another new car, Celerio happens to be the debut platform for an innovative new technology, known as the Automated Manual Transmission or the AMT.

A large part of its appeal is the fact that this car will usher the country into a whole new era of hassle free city commutes, just like way the humble Maruti 800 did some three decades back. While there have been automatic gearboxes to start with, in the context of Indian sub-continent, they were never popular. Huge upfront costs (over manual geared variant), higher maintenance and poor fuel efficiency are just some of the factors which have contributed to the cause. But something new is here to change the way we drive, for good and cheap!

Maruti Celerio is a sub 1litre, compact hatchback with an automatic gear shift. No hassles of pushing the clutch or if so desired, no requirement of slotting the gears either. But Celerio is not the actual show stopper. It’s the AMT- a trend which seems to have wedged on with almost every other Indian manufacturers as well. Both TATA (with the Zest) and Mahindra (with their Quanto) are ready with their respective launches, embracing the AMT technology, with Hyundai and Volkswagen, looking forward to adopting this technology in its future models.

amtEssentially, the AMT is nothing like the conventional auto boxes. It operates on the manual transmission of a car just like a driver would. It opens and closes the clutch, and engages and disengages the gears – both these control actions are executed by hydraulic actuators which in turn are controlled by the Transmission Control Unit or the TCU – replacing the hands and the brains of a driver. This entire unit is delivered to a manufacturer as a sealed unit which the manufacturer then incorporates within the conventional gearbox assembly. Ironically, though being complex, this technology is actually cheaper, easy to manufacture and the most important of all – more efficient! In a country like India, where everybody is obsessed with fuel efficiency, AMT is the perfect replacement for costlier, fully automatic transmission counterparts.

Interestingly, while there are many manufacturers of AMT – like ZF, GETRAG and WAPCO globally, Indian manufacturers unanimously have opted to use the technology from Magneti Marelli (a subsidiary of Fiat group). The reason, as stated by Maruti is that the Magneti Marelli system is an excellent balance between efficiency and cost, a formula that is tailor made for the Indian market.

With such a path breaking, innovation, we are left to wonder as to why we are so slow in adopting such technologies. But what is surprising is the fact, that the AMT is not a new system. Paradoxically, this frugal, convenient and mileage-friendly technology has been derived from one of the most profligate motoring indulgences – Formula One. And the first time it was seen in a car on the road was in 1997 – on a Ferrari 355 F1! In fact it has been employed in many European cars over the years, but hasn’t seen a widespread usage. The reason being simple – it’s not the best in town when it comes to sheer smoothness! For most part of it, manufacturers haven’t been able to make the gear shifts seamless or jerk less in AMT, like automatic gearboxes. In most developed economies, the average gear shifts per kilometre are much fewer than countries like India, and neither are they obsessed with fuel efficiency as much. So in effect, either they made do with manual gearboxes or paid a bit extra for conventional auto boxes. The coming of AMT has therefore brought a eureka moment for manufacturers.

In India though, there’s an unexpected development. AMT not only gives the driver peace of mind of clutch less shifts, something metropolitan dwellers are direly craving for, it is also as fuel efficient as a regular manual gearbox. Going a step ahead, Maruti is not only the company to bring out the first AMT equipped car, but also the first to implement the 4th generation of this technology. But the real challenge that that will be faced by every other manufacturer is to tune the AMT so as to make the actuation smooth while making it as efficient as possible.

The year ahead promises all the bells and whistles, the petrol and diesel heads of the country have been craving for. For all the delay in bringing this technology to Indian shores, our automotive giants deserve a pat on the back for at least putting the technology in an Indian car, much before it’s original inventors – the Fiat and VAG group did.

 - Rahul is a well travelled Bangalore based photo journalist with experience in reporting, writing and communication. Currently, onboard The Jain University Press, he specializes in aviation and technology.