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Trying out ZF Meritor’s FreedomLine transmission

OOIDA President Jim Johnston, a former owner-operator, seldom turns down the opportunity to get back behind the wheel. It was therefore no surprise that his trip to the Mid-America Trucking Show included a short test drive of the ZF Meritor FreedomLine transmission, a fully automated mechanical heavy-duty truck transmission.

Johnston and OOIDA Board member Ray Kasicki of Cleveland, OH, climbed into the cab of a Kenworth T2000, one of the two models on display at Louisville that was equipped with the FreedomLine’s “no clutch” tranny. Johnston took the wheel.

The OOIDA chief said some of his first thoughts were that most drivers have a certain amount of pride in their ability to handle standard transmissions and may be hesitant to choose an automatic transmission. “I guess you could say automatics could be thought of as wimpy,” he said.

As soon as the truck was in motion, Johnston said he had to admit it was smooth. “It shifted pretty much like I would have shifted it myself. There was no slush between gears and if you were standing on the side of the road, you’d never know I wasn’t shifting it.”

And for those veteran drivers who will say unless you were shifting gears, what would you do going up and down all those hills, Johnston says, “The truth is, with today’s engines, you aren’t doing all that much shifting anyway.”

Johnston was impressed with the reverse creep gear. “I could see that as a tremendous benefit in backing up to the dock,” he said. “At idle, it moves so slow you have to look at the ground to see if the truck is in motion. This would eliminate the need to slip the clutch and manipulate the brake when approaching contact with the dock.”

Kenworth will initially launch the FreedomLine transmission in the T2000 models with plans to eventually roll out the transmission to its entire heavy-duty product line. The FreedomLine transmission will be available from Kenworth in the 12-speed direct drive model rated at 1,350 lb.-ft. of torque, 12-speed overdrive model rated at 1,650 lb.-ft. of torque. Limited-quantity build of the 12-speed began in March with production release for the T2000 model expected in September with other models following thereafter.