NORFOLK, Neb. – There are not as many cars, SUVs and small trucks on the road that have manual transmissions anymore. With advances in fuel efficiency and seamless operation, ‘automatics’ have become the standard among manufactures. In fact, only 41 out of the 327 new car models sold in the United States in 2020, or 13%, were offered with a manual transmission, according to data from Edmunds.
Another sector seeing more automatics rolling off the assembly line is the trucking industry where approximately half of the 40 million trucks on the road feature automatic transmission. Tony Milenkovich, diesel technology - truck instructor at Northeast Community College, said manuals are still available, but they are getting harder to find.
“They’ll still sell you a manual transmission, but I will say that 50% of the market share is now automated transmissions,” he said. “In order to reach a level of automation where you can have something as important as collision mitigation, you have to get the clutch peddle out of the cab and things like that.”
Milenkovich and faculty members in Northeast’s diesel technology program provide instruction to students on repairing and testing in a variety of areas in the industry. They are also working with students to be versatile to adapt to new technologies. A program offered through a regional trucking dealer is giving them additional tools to do just that.
RDO Truck Centers, a full-service dealer representing Mack, Volvo, Hino, and Isuzu, operates 10 locations in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota, including one in Norfolk, is providing Northeast and several other area community colleges with three, mDRIVE semi-truck automated transmission training modules and approximately $40,000 in special tools, training stands, access to service information, among other items for training purposes.
Milenkovich said RDO is offering the transmissions that have come out of working trucks to help college programs, such as Northeast, experience current technologies in their training of students.
“This is a different manufacture than we have worked with. This transmission has been used over in Europe for about 20-years; it’s only been in the United States for about 10-years,” Milenkovich said. They just don’t build manual transmissions anymore; everything is automated. An automated transmission is a mechanical transmission, but it is shifted by a computer. There is no clutch pedal or shifter. They are nice and smooth.”
Milenkovich said the transmissions are not too difficult to work on, which will help build confidence among students when they work on them. Of the three transmissions from RDO, one came with a failure in it,
which has been good for the students to encounter.
“It’s nice that they can see that, and we can explain to them what causes it, how to avoid that failure and what you’re going to have to do if you have to fix it,” Milenkovich said. “It’s also good practice for them to learn how to follow the disassembling and reassembly process.”
RDO Mack also provides the students with diagnostics software to place on laptops and communication adapters that can be hooked up to the trucks. Once students are finished with the transmissions, they must reassemble them to go on to the next college. RDO is handling all the transportation and freight expenses to send the transmissions and associated equipment to the colleges as well as the maintenance to make them functional.
Job prospects for diesel service technicians are plentiful. Employment of technicians and mechanics is expected to grow over the next decade as many skilled technicians are expected to retire and will need to be replaced. Northeast made it easy for students to meet with prospective employers as a Job Fair was held right in the Diesel Technology Lab on campus in January that featured approximately 25 employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wage for diesel service technicians and mechanics was $50,200 as of May 2020.
Milenkovich said he appreciates RDO’s willingness to provide students like his additional opportunities to be well trained to fill the many open positions that exist in the industry.
“This is allowing our students to get a better understanding as to how these automated transmissions are impacting the trucking industry. They just don’t see it on a daily basis; it’s here and they’re going to see them quite often in the shops where they plan to work.”
Northeast Community College Diesel Technology students Carter Arduser, Beemer, (left) Taylor Matson, Gretna, and Zach Boyd, Norfolk, work on an automatic transmission provided by RDO Truck Centers. The company has developed a program to loan Northeast and several other area community colleges with three, mDRIVE semi-truck automated transmission training modules and approximately $40,000 in special tools, training stands, access to service information, among other items for training purposes.