Soon, we’ll see cars come equipped with a new semi-automatic gearbox in India and around the world. This is thanks to the development of transmissions that are equipped with electronic clutch management system by Schaeffler. The electronic clutch, or E-clutch, is a technology that uses electronic clutch management to automate the operation of the clutch in manual gearboxes commonly seen on cars in India. It means that a car equipped with an E-clutch will have only two pedals - accelerator and brake - in the driver’s footwell. This setup is similar to the one seen in automatic cars. However, unlike an automatic car, cars equipped with an E-clutch will still require the driver to manually engage the gears.
Now, one may ask what’s the need for an automatic transmission that still requires the driver to slot every gear manually. The answer lies in its lower cost. Since the level of automation in the E-clutch is limited to the clutch pedal only, it should be cheaper to manufacture when compared to conventional automatic transmissions. And since the clutch operation is automated, cars equipped with this system should be more convenient to use compared to a car equipped with a manual transmission.
Talking about the outright cost to buyer, the E-clutch will be less expensive than an AMT. Maruti Suzuki, for example, charges Rs 35,000 premium for AMT-equipped Maruti Suzuki Alto K10 over its manual counterpart. Talking about the E-clutch’s price in comparison to an AMT, Dharmesh Arora, president and CEO of Schaeffler India, told us, “Schaeffler has a full range of automation for the Indian market. We anticipate the price of an E-Clutch system to be considerably lower than an AMT application.”
Another concern associated with an AMT, in general, is the ‘head nod’ that a driver experiences during upshifts or downshifts. While carmakers have managed to contain this characteristic AMT issue to a great extent, it still persists. Dharmesh believes that the concern is not as big for an E-clutch, which is also based on a manual transmission like the AMT. The reason he states is, “As the driver is closely connected to the vehicle and is controlling the shifting of gears, the drive feeling is similar to a vehicle with manual transmission. When compared to AMTs, the driver defines the shift schedule himself, and pressing the accelerator pedal down is not resulting in a shift at high rpm automatically. This is much more consistent and easy to adopt compared to an AMT.”
Since the E-clutch automates a manual transmission partially and is expected to be cheaper than an AMT too, we expect it to feature mainly on entry-level mass market cars, the ones that cost under Rs 6 lakh in India. This segment is also expected to see some new launches in the next few years as most of cars in this price range from carmakers like Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai are yet to comply with the upcoming BNVSAP (Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program) safety standards. That said, Dharmesh says that this transmission can replace a manual transmission on any car, whether petrol, diesel or hybrid.
The E-clutch system doesn’t compromise on fuel efficiency either. Therefore, we think it ticks all the right boxes to feature in a small entry-level vehicle. On its possible introduction in an Indian vehicle, Dharmesh said, “Various global automakers throughout the world are testing vehicles installed with Schaeffler's E-clutch systems. We expect one of the carmakers abroad to have a production vehicle by mid-2018. We are also working with various automakers in India and we anticipate that by 2020 the need for this technology will increase. We are mainly working with a two-pedal system for the Indian market. It will be focussed on clutch automation while the gear shift will be under the control of the driver.”
So, are you ready to drive cars with an E-clutch transmission? Do you think an E-clutch will make more sense to first-time car buyers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.