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Auto Expo 2014: Are AMTs a natural progression towards Automatics?
We’ve seen three cars from three different manufacturers at the 2014 Indian Auto Expo reveal a ‘revolutionary’ new gearbox technology called the Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) – Maruti with the EZ Drive Celerio, Tata with the F-tronic Zest and Mahindra with the auto shift Quanto. What exactly are these new gearboxes and why are they such a big deal in the Indian automotive context?
The AMT is a semi-automatic gearbox that has existed for ages around the world. The gearbox was conceptualized from the need to provide an easier driving experience in stop-go traffic conditions and the technology eventually progressed to proper automatics that are already on sale today. The AMT doesn’t require a manual clutch so in a sense, the physical absence of the clutch pedal makes it an automatic for the driver. The clutch is engaged and disengaged with the help of hydraulic actuators. These actuators respond to rpm and throttle inputs to keep the car in the right gear. In addition, the gearbox has an extra gate for manual mode. Once slotted in this mode, the driver can shift gears by moving the gear lever either up or down.
But why have Maruti, Tata Motors and Mahindra decided to take the plunge now into this gearbox technology? The short answer is - the need for an automatic and the cost of making one. Let me explain…
Automatics are expensive compared to their manual counterpart. The price difference could be anything between Rs 70,000 to Rs 1 lakh, and in our price-conscious market, it’s too steep a price to pay. Automatics are also not as frugal as manuals so you are not only paying extra for the gearbox, you are also spending more time at the pumps. This is a crucial reason for the fairly limited success of automatics in our country. Tata Motors says that the AMT gearbox will return at least 5 percent better efficiency that the manual gearbox equipped Zest and Maruti claims that the Celerio AMT is as economical as the manual. The Celerio is the only car among the three that has already been launched with a price increase of Rs 40,000 over the manual model. Expect the Zest and Quanto with equivalent AMTs to be priced similarly.