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Smashing The Bell Curve

With the UltraShift PLUS, inexperienced drivers can be as fuel-efficient as a fleet’s most seasoned veterans

If a fleet were to chart the miles per gallon (MPG) of its drivers using a line graph, with the number of drivers along the side axis and MPG along the bottom, it would likely appear as a bell curve, with the majority of drivers falling somewhere in between the best and worst performers and the most fuel-efficient drivers - the minority - appearing on the far right.

There may be some 6 MPG drivers on the far left of the chart and some 8 MPG drivers on the right. But in most cases, the majority of drivers will fall somewhere in between, representing the hump of the bell curve.

Unfortunately, those highly sought 8 MPG drivers are often the minority, and it’s estimated the fuel consumption variance between a 6 MPG driver and an 8 MPG driver is as much as $20,000 per year.


Benefits chart

Looked at another way, if the 6 MPG driver is burning through $20,000 more fuel in a year than the 8 MPG driver, a fleet - assuming a 5 percent profit margin - may have to generate $400,000 in additional revenue to make up the difference.

$20,000 fuel cost / 5% profit margin = $400,000 additional revenue
With that in mind, there’s little wonder more fleets are looking to automated mechanical transmissions such as the Eaton UltraShift PLUS to help them improve their fleet-wide fuel economy.

There are many advantages to running automated transmissions; the potential fuel mileage improvement is just one of them. Another is less training time required to  teach progressive shifting, so those resources can be  allocated toward teaching equally important skills such as defensive driving. With the help of automated shifting, new hires can become comfortable with the equipment more quickly and can immediately begin producing fuel economy that’s on par with a fleet’s most seasoned drivers.

ultraShiftPlusTaking shifting out of the hands of the driver provides safety benefits as well. Drivers can focus on their surroundings and keep two hands on the steering wheel at all times. Driving an automated transmission-equipped truck also reduces wear and tear on a driver’s knee and elbow joints. In stop-and-go traffic, not having to depress the clutch pedal hundreds of times can result in a fresher driver at the end of a shift.
Of course, there remain many experienced drivers who are adept at shifting gears and relish the challenge. And some of these drivers may even be able to match the fuel economy performance of the UltraShift PLUS. These drivers, however, are becoming the minority and are becoming more difficult to find all the time.
They’re being replaced with a younger generation of drivers who, in many cases, didn’t grow up driving a manual transmission car, let alone double-clutching their way through as many as 18 gears. Some fleets have discovered automation is the only way this new generation of driver can quickly equal the efficiency of their more seasoned peers.

“If you’re talking about a 30-year-old, the likelihood they’ve driven a manual transmission passenger car goes down,” says Molly Doyle, automation and vocational sales manager with Eaton.

It has been widely said that, as a general rule, the fuel economy variance between any given fleet’s best- and worst-performing drivers is as great as 30 percent. The simplest way to bring parity to the ranks -- to shatter the bell curve-- is to equip trucks with UltraShift PLUS. In fact, Eaton often advises fleets looking to test automated transmissions to put the first units in the hands of their worst-performing drivers and watch as their fuel economy improves.

The improvement is most pronounced in applications that require frequent shifting, such as city driving or regional haul applications.

Of course, automation isn’t for everyone. There are still many drivers who view shifting as an art form, and wouldn’t have it any other way. A masterful shifter rarely needs to consult the tachometer, instead relying on the sound of the engine to convey rpm. They have a set of eyes (score one for the humans!), which, despite all the technological wizardry built into an automated transmission’s electronic control unit (ECU), is impossible to replicate and gives these drivers the ability to better judge the profile of the road ahead. These drivers may represent a thinning segment of the professional driver population, but the good news is, they still have the option of selecting a manual transmission such as the proven 8LL, FR-Series or the new Fuller Advantage™ Series.

As Doyle says, fleet customers and owner-operators will always enjoy the luxury of choice Eaton provides.  “Our reliability numbers are really good on the automated side and we’re really proud of the work we’ve done from a quality standpoint,” she said. “I think we have a good value proposition for both our manual and automated customers.”