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Old 11th May 2015, 14:58   #1
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Default Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler

So there I was, escaping the May heat in the chilled confines of a nice restaurant one Saturday night, when the phone rang. It was a Team BHPian from Pune that I know, asking: could I attend a test drive event the following day? Things moved quickly after that, and I found myself at the Westin on Sunday afternoon meeting with the folks from Schaeffler, a German MNC that makes automotive components, and their consultants, Frost & Sullivan, who had organized the event.

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We hadn't discussed too much of what I was expected to test over the phone and they quickly brought me up to speed: Schaeffler wanted to test out a new transmission they had developed for the Indian market and this event was one they'd organized to test with some target customers and also industry experts. I'm not sure which category I fall into, because frankly am the type whose eyes glaze over whenever things get a bit too technical here on Team BHP! But I drive an AT myself and when they started dropping familiar terms like AMT and CVT, I was hooked. Spent the next hour or two toodling about North Main Road, Koregaon Park in a variety of vehicles, all equipped with various forms of automatic/automated transmission setups and giving my opinion on each of those to whoever cared to listen .

I reached there at the fag end of the 3 days over which they had organized this, which meant thankfully there was no waiting for others to finish, etc. They wanted me to drive 5 vehicles, each paired to a different transmission. These included a conventional torque convertor, a CVT, an AMT, a DSG and finally the ECM system they wanted me to rate in comparison with all the others.

It wasn't a true like-to-like comparison because they'd got 5 different cars to test. The combinations are listed below:

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Last edited by noopster : 11th May 2015 at 18:35.
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Old 11th May 2015, 15:48   #2
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Default re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler

Test Drive #1: Maruti Suzuki Dzire + 4-speed AT

Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler-marutidzire03.jpg

First came the Dzire. I've driven the manual variant of this locally produced Maruti bestseller and know that the 4-cylinder K12 engine is quite zippy, but was wondering what effect the boring-sounding 4-speed AT would have on it. Surprisingly it wasn't too bad at all, though keep in mind we were test driving in the city, albeit on relatively empty roads. The shifts were quick and fairly seamless. My daily drive is a torque convertor (a 6-speed VW Vento 1.6 NA) and this felt rather familiar. There is a shifting lag than any AT driver comes to expect and this car was par for the course. Not bad for a city runabout at all. I expect the 4 speed box will be a drag on big empty highways though.

There was an exit ramp in the hotel's parking lot where they made me test the hill roll for each car (some of the cars were equipped with hill-hold and it is an option they are toying with on their own proposed 'box). The Dzire didn't exactly roll backwards when stopped on a slope, thanks to the torque creep generated in D.

Test Drive #2: Nissan Micra CVT

Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler-nissanmicrafacelift19.jpg

I came back feeling quite happy and then my smile disappeared when I sat in the Micra CVT. Mind you I have test driven (Renault Scala CVT (Automatic) : Official Review) this same box extensively but mated to the higher rated engine used on the Sunny/Scala AT. The 3-pot 1.2L petrol is noisy and struggles to get up to speed; adding the CVT to the mix is just a tad too tragic for my liking. It starts off slow and things get worse from there. Being a CVT the rubberbanding effect is pronounced: you floor the throttle and you get is high revs and noise, no corresponding surge of power.

Easily my least favourite form of AT, though on this day I suspect the underpowered engine had more than a little to do with it. One more annoying thing I noticed is that as soon as you dial in some power, if you have to slow down for traffic, the CVT just keeps going and you need to brake hard to gain control. This car didn't have a manual mode either, nor a Sport mode (the new Nissan Sunny CVT comes with one, though fat good I see it doing!)

CVT 'box failed the hill roll test as well. In all fairness that is as advertised. But it added to the overall negative experience. Oh all right, let's move on.

Test Drive #3: 2009 Vauxhall Corsa + AMT

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They imported this piece direct from the UK for this test but in all honesty needn't have bothered. An Alto K10 with the AMT would have sufficed just as well, and I passed this feedback on to the boys. For starters the Corsa was way too heavy. The 1.4 petrol engine felt underpowered and had none of the zippiness of the Dzire, for example. The AMT's shifts lag a fair bit, more so than the conventional AT's.

This is not the Magneti Marelli AMT in use on the Marutis & Tatas but one of the other European manufacturers (EDIT: I received a clarification from the organizers that this in fact was a Schaeffler AMT box). It had a nice enough readout with gear upshift/downshift prompts and a manual mode; plus since it's an AMT the gearbox characteristic mimicks a manual fairly well. Hill hold was also included, if memory serves right. The overall experience was OK-ish: I rate it higher than the CVT but lower than the torque convertor.

Test Drive #4: VW Polo 1.4 TSI + DSG

Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler-vwvento06.jpg

From a driver's point of view, a dual-clutch transmission (DCT or, as the Germans call it, DSG) is the best form of automatic transmission there is. Reliability issues have nagged VW AG's DSG boxes in India since their launch (link (Skoda Woes And The Ghost Of The Mechatronics!!)) but despite that VW has plonked the same 'box in the sub-10L segment through the Polo GT TSI (petrol) and its slightly expensive sedan counterpart the Vento (both TDI and TSI versions available). The company also claims to have sorted out the mechatronics issues now having moved to mineral oil instead of the earlier synthetic oil, which seems a rather simple fix to a complex problem, making the hardboiled cynics among us firmly adopt a wait and watch policy!

Anyway, back to this car- it was actually a UK-spec import with probably the same engine that does duty on the Jetta in India (1.4L TSI producing 122 ps) mated to the DQ200 7-speed DSG 'box found on all the cars referred to above. The good folks organizing the event had scheduled the cars the way they had to prompt some kind of "A-ha!" reaction about now and they were right. Though I'd known all along that this was the car to beat, the sheer difference in driving experience caught me a little off-guard. I have had prior experience with this DSG box, but on the Superb 1.8 TSI, which is a much longer and heavier car, so the sheer driveability and zippiness of the Polo 1.4 was a revelation. You go through the gears without even realizing you are shifting- even kickdown is effortless. Engine braking is also the best of the lot, even in pure automatic D mode. The hill-hold is a great feature, even if the slight rollback just before it activates is a bit scary (you get used to it quickly).

I like automatics but can confidently say that this 'box will appeal to the most die-hard of manual tranny lovers out there (I know GTO to scoff at all automatics but even he doesn't mind a nice dual-clutch! ). Tiptronic mode works the same way as it does on other VW AG cars and is fun to boot!

Last edited by noopster : 14th May 2015 at 12:32.
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Old 11th May 2015, 17:19   #3
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Default re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler

With all the foreplay done, now came the time for the main act!

Test Drive #5: Maruti Swift 1.4 + ECM

Cheap innuendos apart, I was quite eager to get my hands on the star for the day: another UK import, this time a Swift with the new ECM gearbox Schaeffler proposes to launch and wanted me to test. I had no clue what an ECM was: in my line of work that expands to "Enterprise Content Management" which I thought was a bit unlikely here! Anyway they kept the suspense up and I decided to go with the flow.

I got into the Swift finally and was a little nonplussed to see a manual gear shift lever in there.

Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler-marutiswift09.jpg

The guy doing the briefing registered my surprise with a smile of quiet satisfaction. Then he asked me to check the footwell.

Surprise #2: no clutch pedal!

Turns out ECM stands for "electronic clutch management" (that's what the printed material they gave me claims- I could swear the Schaeffler guy onsite said "manipulation"). You drive the car exactly as you would a manual, the only difference being the clutch action is simulated electronically.

My first question: "So what's my left leg supposed to do while shifting?" (it provoked some laughter but it's a valid question- will come to this later). Anyway I started the engine in neutral and drove off.

To be honest it was a rather confusing experience. You drive off in 1st, then your left leg instinctively pushes down on the non-existent clutch and your right foot steps off the gas as you upshift. When you come to a stop, if you don't shift into neutral, the engine stays in that gear with the clutch depressed till you remember and mutter a short expletive and shove it into N. Then the process repeats itself.

I managed to drive this car without stalling it (hardly an achievement considered it is after all an automatic!) but there was something unnerving about it that I was not quite able to put my finger on, till after the drive. Then it hit me.

You see- all my driving life (about 22 years now) I've driven either manuals or automatics. The standard H is so closely associated with a manual that the sight of it in an "automatic" is enough to make your head swim. But once you get over that sensation, you'd think it was a piece of cake to adapt to this 'box.

Not so. For there's one vital difference between this and other forms of automatic/automated transmissions. That's this: you have to take your foot off the gas when shifting gears! No matter that it's electronically done, the clutch still has to be depressed right? Which means you need to raise your right foot, shift the lever, and then lower your foot again. And this can be exhausting!

The Schaeffler boys looked at me strangely and said, really? It's automated- you don't have to use your left foot. I said, THAT'S THE PROBLEM! In a manual, I know I have to press the clutch while I shift, so my left foot goes into action the same time that my right foot relaxes, and vice versa. It's so ingrained in every driver we hardly notice!

Here you have one leg doing all the work while the other is itching to do something. Mind you- that's the case in any AT car but at least your right leg is fairly relaxed since your foot doesn't have to keep popping up for air now and then.

By now we were sitting in a nice air conditioned conference room at the Westin sipping Coke Zero. But it still looked like my point was going nowhere. So I tried a different tack.

"Has no other driver over the last 3 days given you this feedback about the ECM 'box?" They shook their heads in unison. And looked a bit dispirited when, after all that, when asked, would I buy a car with this transmission, my answer was a categorical "No".

Why not? It is after all the lowest cost option for an automatic, they said.

That may have been a great argument 5 years ago, I replied. You have to remember that the market has moved on. When I was looking for an automatic car in 2010, I had maybe 2-3 reasonable options, none in the hatchback category. Today you have VW and Ford plonking state-of-the-art double-clutch 'boxes in the 10L segment. And AMTs are going into 2L cars for crying out loud! Once the Nano Twist AMT launches, the entire budget spectrum is covered. It's hard to imagine someone willingly putting his legs through all that trouble just to save some 20,000 rupees.

The taxi drivers we tested these on claimed it gave their left foot a good rest, was the next claim. I didn't dispute that- clutches on most commercial vehicles are a pain to operate especially over the distances that these guys cover in a day. But it *is* a lot of work changing gears manually and the point about the right foot raised its head again.

OK then, they challenged me, what would you do to resolve this? How about a straight shifter, I suggested. A linear 1-2-3-4-5 configuration that at least makes the process a bit more fun. Or paddle shifters on the steering!

Of course it would all boil down to cost. The advantage of this system is that it can be used on any gearbox in any vehicle at a cost much lower than plonking in a fully automatic/automated transmission. And they can add stuff like hill-hold and gear shift prompters at minimal incremental cost. But my main concern if I were Schaeffler would be how easily the new system would be adopted, especially in the A/B segment where they claim to have the most interest.

They turned the question around and posed it to me: as a consumer what is your gearbox of choice in these segments, where cost is of primary importance? I gave them my honest layman opinion on each of the options:

AMT: Already done but probably the most promising technology in India. Tata and MSIL have already adopted it for everything from the Nano to the Zest, Alto to Celerio (and possibly the Ciaz?) Not the best driving experience but certainly worth it for the sheer convenience aspect alone.

CVT: I hate this gearbox so my opinion is to be discounted suitably. Not a bad choice at all in the A/B segment but a no-no higher up (am amazed Honda chose a CVT for the new City).

Conventional (torque converter) AT: My gearbox of choice in the lower segments. There was some frowning and shaking of heads as this is apparently an expensive option, comparable with the DSGs (you learn something new everyday).

DSG: Definite no-no in the A/B segment. Even if the cost permitted it, these boxes have an aura of luxury around them and it would be a fool carmaker who tries to plonk it into an entry level hatch. They agreed wholeheartedly.

I'd already made my opinions about the ECM quite obvious by then- here's a quick summary:
  • Confusing as heck- am I driving an MT or an AT?
  • Lack of fully automatic mode is (literally) a pain
  • Perception of luxury associated with ATs will not spill over to these
  • Too little too late

They thanked me and handed me a goodie bag with a Schaeffer pen (nice touch!) and some promotional material about the company. In the interests of fairness, let me try and capture the points the company claims favour adoption of its "Efficient Future Mobility" platform:
  • ECM- or "electronic clutch management" system makes the clutch pedal unnecessary and is replaced by an electromechanical actuator. In combination with the gear detection system integrated in the shift tower, automated driving and a harmonious engine start/stop function is possible
  • They also optimize friction at various points in the drive train and leverage variable camshaft timing units (VCT) which allow matching of the engine characteristics to the specific driving situation for optimum performance and energy efficiency.
  • Integrated thermal management module ensures that the engine operates in the optimum temperature window, offering fuel efficiency and power plant life.
Schaeffler claims that the net result of all these technologies leads to a fuel saving of ten percent.

Last edited by noopster : 11th May 2015 at 18:48.
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Old 11th May 2015, 18:31   #4
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Default re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeffler

Well, that was that really. Spent a nice couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon doing what we like to do best: drive different cars and talk about them! from my informal discussions with the Schaeffler executives present, I understood that currently the company does not manufacture complete gearboxes in India themselves (they supply components to some OE manufacturers). But it's an interesting space to get into given the growing popularity of slushboxes in this country and this research seemed to be an important part of it.

A big shout out to Senior BHPian Turboholic who alerted us to this event.

All pictures picked from Team BHP official reviews, except where credited separately.

Last edited by noopster : 11th May 2015 at 18:34.
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Old 12th May 2015, 09:55   #5
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12th May 2015, 10:16   #6
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

Awesome report noopster!

Even though I don't have any personal experience with this kind of a mechanism, that this might not be as well accepted as an AMT unit for the reasons correctly mentioned by you. I mean if you have to shift gears, then might as well do it the conventional way, else don't shift at all. I'm not sure how many would want to adapt to such a system. I can only imagine how weird it must have been for you to lift off your right leg from the A-pedal (while changing gears) only to realize that your left leg is chilling besides the brake.

A quick question: when you re-press the accelerator after shifting, is there any of the jerky motion felt that you would from a typical manual gearbox (eg. when you lift off the clutch a little too early) or was the transition seamless?
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Old 12th May 2015, 10:20   #7
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

Very insightful and easy to read thread there noopster! Thanks for sharing with us. A pic of all the cars would have rounded the thread.

The ECM looks very confusing indeed. As rightly pointed out, the presence of the traditional manual gate for shifting makes the absence of clutch very weird. Maybe, new drivers won't have such a difficulty to adapt.

My pick among the lot is the DSG. Its convenience, fun and efficiency all rolled into one. But not right now. Firstly, I am not done with manuals yet. And secondly, we need to give it some more time for the box to become bulletproof and available across manufacturers.

For the time being, I think an AMT with electronic hill-hold & ABS in a A/B segment hatch will be a nice second car to add to the garage.
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Old 12th May 2015, 10:30   #8
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

With the ECM module installed, how did you find the vehicle to drive in a city where you are to do a Half Clutch at times or Slipping of Clutch scenario ?
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Old 12th May 2015, 10:39   #9
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

Nice informative article and I have not heard about the ECM, any time earlier.
I think, in a way, the ECM is quite the opposite of AMT. What the TCU (Transmission Control Unit) does in an AMT is replicated by controlling the clutch, by the ECM.
Hope, this technology makes its way into several A/B segment cars, pretty soon.

Last edited by rajeev k : 12th May 2015 at 10:43.
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Old 12th May 2015, 10:41   #10
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

This kind of transmission is known as a semi automatic.

I've driven a semi automatic transmission ATV for 4 hours and it was quite a lot of fun. But you're right it does take time getting used to.

You need to get the knack of releasing the gas and shifting gears. Once you get over the no clutch part it's quite easy. The AMT celerio is somewhat similar in tip tronic mode. If you want quick upshifts in the AMT, you need to release the throttle and use the + tip tronic. Else the AMT is painful to drive in tip tronic mode with slow and jerky up shifts.

I'm not sure if this will really work in India. The AMT is now only 40-50K more than the similar MT so even if this semi automatic is 20K more, I would rather pay the additional 20-30K and get the AMT.
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Old 12th May 2015, 10:41   #11
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

A very informative report ! Could this ECM be retrofitted into existing manual box cars? That could be a market for this product and that if it doesn't muck around with the 'average'. The DSG, Torque Inv & CVT aren't retrofits, not sure about the AMT though?
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Old 12th May 2015, 10:42   #12
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

Quote:
Originally Posted by noopster View Post
Test Drive #5: Maruti Swift 1.4 + ECM
Reminds me of the autoclutch (Autoclutch Review).

Does this have a button on the gear lever for actuating the clutch?

Last edited by jinojohnt : 12th May 2015 at 10:46.
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Old 12th May 2015, 11:04   #13
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

The ECM sounds somewhat similar to eClutch that Bosch had been experimenting with on the Indonesian version of the Brio. They were also talking to some Indian manufacturers to integrate it in their entry level vehicles. Not sure if Bosch has abandoned the eClutch or still developing it.
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Old 12th May 2015, 11:14   #14
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

Nice report noopster. I guess if this had come in before the AMT, it may have garnered some interest. But now, with AMT getting popular, does not seem to be a sensible option to consider. Seems neither here or there. Not a manual not an automatic.

I remember there was a moped several years back (Hero Puch or Street?) that was based on a similar concept. Change gears but without the clutch. More recently there was a bike also-TVS Jive which did not have a clutch but where you had to change gears the normal way.

I don't think the TVS Jive was very successful.

Last edited by Rajeevraj : 12th May 2015 at 11:16.
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Old 12th May 2015, 11:17   #15
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Default Re: Driven: Swift with Electronic Clutch Management (ECM). And some other ATs with Schaeff

Very interesting review indeed! The first of its kinds that I've read. However, it is a pity that you had to test the CVT on a petite Nissan Micra. I own a Honda City CVT 2014, and it is miles ahead of Nissan's CVT. I've driven the Nissan Sunny CVT and the Nissan Sylphy Bluebird CVT (New Zealand) and the Honda City's CVT with it's torque convertor just beats the hell out of Nissan.

I haven't driven a VW DSG, but a Merc B-class DSG and it was definitely better than the CVT, but not a very great deal. I have fallen in love with how the City CVT starts from stop in a jerkless locomotive fashion
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