ATSG (Automatic Transmission Service Group)
With a single and brief sabbatical, ATSG (Automatic Transmission Service Group) has been the engine behind Transmission Digest’s technical content for more than 30 years. Among other duties, the ATSG team of support technicians and technical instructors prepare articles in Transmission Digest Tech/Talk bulletin as well as Technically Speaking and Shift Pointers articles that appear in the magazine and its companion digital publication.
Founder of ATSG, Bob Cherrnay, came to the powertrain aftermarket providing, for many years, technical seminars for ATRA. In 1985, Cherrnay struck out on his own to form ATSG with the first memberships having been sold in early 1986. Shortly thereafter, Dale England, technical director for Aaron’s Automotive, was hired by Cherrnay. At that time, England already was the editor for the aforementioned Transmission Digest Tech/Talk newsletter and bulletin service.
The relationship between the magazine and Miami-based ATSG has been so close that many in the industry mistakenly assume a common ownership. However, in preparing for his retirement in 2002, Cherrnay set in motion an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) that concluded over the following few years. Cherrnay passed away in 2009, England in 2013.
Colonna describes the current ATSG operations as a beehive of daily activity that includes preparation of bulletins, seminar documentation books, the presentation of more than 20 domestic seminars a year, traveling the globe to present overseas and a couple of appearances at shows including APRA’s BigR. Most important of all company operations, Colonna says, is the day-in, day-out technical hotline support afforded to ATSG’s hundreds of members. Technical staff in the Miami office includes Colonna, long-time transmission trainers Pete Luban and Gerald Campbell.
Says Colonna: “The increasing complexity of the electronic aspect of automatic transmissions fuels the majority of our support phone calls. One of the weirdest things we’ve run across is that the transmission is not shifting or it’s shifting very late; the shift scheduling is off. The guys have tried everything and there aren’t any codes and you’ve checked all engine load devices and everything seems to be fine. Now, you reprogram the computer and you still have the problem. Finally, we discover that this is a symptom of over- or under-inflated tires.
“This is caused by software called curve-recognition programming. The idea is that the vehicle shouldn’t shift while in a turn. The inflation of the tires can fool the system into thinking it’s making a turn and so the shift is suppressed. ABS, engine controls and transmission controls are so intertwined that these types of issues are becoming more common.”
And, he says that many a late-model unit has such tight clearances that standard rebuilding practices can actually cause problems. “Rebuilders have a preference to tighten up the clutch pack when they rebuild a transmission. There are some newer units that you just can’t do that. They won’t adapt right so you end up with all these clunks and bumps in the downshift. We’ve seen guys try everything. They reprogram; I’ve even had guys think it’s a case of not using OE fluid. In the end, the modification of the clutch pack screws up the shift adapts.
“I did a seminar in the Netherlands and my first slide was a picture of brussels sprouts. I asked how many in the audience like to eat brussels sprouts. Only a few hands went up and I explained that most of us can’t stand eating those. But, as much as you don’t like them, they’re good for you. The next slide was of an oscilloscope and programming two things builders don’t like but that are good for them.”
Colonna says ATSG, as well as training and supporting North American rebuilders, has a long and valued role in training their European counterparts.
“ATSG has been involved with the European aftermarket for as far back as 2002. Automatic Choice is the company that pioneered bringing technical training from America back in the day when Peter DeGroot and Fred VanDrake ran it. They invited me to come over and do presentations during the Automechanika Show in Frankfurt. And, of all the transmissions they could have asked me to cover, they designated the 722.6. I was thinking why they would get a guy from New York to come into Germany to present a seminar on a German transmission? But, to make a long story short, it was a success and they sponsored me to speak in Bristol, England, in the years between Automechanika shows.
“Then they started sponsoring ATSG to speak at the ReMaTech show. Every year I’m going to Europe once or twice, sometimes three times, to speak. Just this year I’ve started speaking in Poland sponsored by a company named Ediparts that is one of Automatic Choices customers. With a fantastic translator, I did a full day of presentations and it went very well. The market in Europe is growing – it’s hot! We’ve hired a very talented guy, Michel Schmets, who represents us in the Netherlands. He is well versed on both manual and automatic transmissions, he knows engines and he knows how to both program and tune the most complex units.”
“You know, tuning a transmission is a whole other ballgame. So many times we get phone calls where the technician is working on a programmable unit that is shifting too early or the converter clutch is coming in at the wrong time. The only way to change that is to go in and tune it. Tuning entails altering the data to achieve the desired shift characteristics. Tuning is made much more difficult because whatever modifications are made cannot affect the emissions. We have to be able to work within the OE-intended emissions parameters.”
As for the future, Colonna sees the powertrain aftermarket industry as having consolidated to fewer shops working on much more complex units that require the array of services ATSG offers to its members. And he says the growing popularity of automatic units in Europe, Asia and Latin America continues to create opportunities for the ATSG team to be a crucial partner to transmission repair operations throughout the globe.
From the Miami office, Heidi Papworth handles membership services. She explains there are a number of options available to provide services to shops and production rebuilders with a wide variety of needs. “The most popular plan is the Gold membership that entitles members to have unlimited access to the technical support hotline as well as full access to our online bulletin library. The library provides common problem solutions, wiring diagrams and the articles that ATSG technicians have written every since we opened. It’s a vast reference library.
“We also offer a “lite” membership that includes only the reference library online access. And we have our highest level membership, the platinum level that includes everything in the gold membership as well as added benefits through APRA that include discounted group health insurance, shipping discount programs and things we have arranged through our partnering with the association.
“Payment options include a discounted, up-front annual payment or monthly payments. For use of the support hotline, by light members or those who are not members, we offer a single technical support line ticket for $40. A technical ticket is started with a question or problem description for a shop and the research and resolution of the problem by our support technicians.”
Eye of the Storm
Concluding, Colonna says that the organization exists to provide accurate and timely answers to any transmission diagnostic or rebuilding problem that member shops experience. He says the organization is built around providing that level of service and proudly points out the maintaining of near normal operations during and immediately after ATSG headquarters was battered by Hurricane Irma.
“We had anticipated something like Irma would happen at some point. Here in the office we have virtually hurricane-proof construction, but we also have the technology to direct incoming calls to the guys in Indiana or Pennsylvania or Missouri. Most of all we installed a natural gas generator out back so that we can operate for days on end independent of the power company.
“For a couple of days, much of the load was shouldered by the remotely located support consultants that include Jerry Gott and Ed Kruse in Missouri, Greg Catanzaro and Clay Wickman in Philadelphia and Rick Sons in Indianapolis. The ATSG phone service is set to automatically distribute calls to available support people.
“After Irma blew through here, we didn’t miss a single day of handling technical support for our members. There were times when we ran a little slower than usual because not everybody was available, but we handled every support call same day! I’m really proud of our foresight and equally proud of the team for handling our customers’ needs so well through such a tough time.”