Transmissions are anything but boring these days. Witness the furious development fever going on to maximize power while at the same time increase fuel efficiency in today’s cars, trucks, SUVs, CUVs, and minivans. Years ago it was four-speed or nothing. Then six-speed trannies became vogue. It wasn’t too long before seven-speed transmissions appeared on luxury rear-wheel drive (RWD) models from Mercedes-Benz. The RWD 2011 BMW 535i Gran Turismo features an eight-speed automatic transmission and Audi A8 sports an eight-speed Tiptronic and quattro all-wheel drive.
Now it’s time for even loftier numbers. German drivetrain supplier ZF says it is developing a nine-speed automatic transmission for transverse-mounted engines (as in front-wheel drive vehicles) and that production is scheduled for Greenville, South Carolina. Separate media outlets have reported that Chrysler is the first in line to receive the new gearbox.
Why the ZF push toward nine gears? ZF is clear on this point. Up to 80 percent of the world’s passenger cars have automatic transmission. Fuel efficiency, as well as performance, are important to buyers. And new buyers of FWD vehicles are expected to gravitate toward the state-of-the-art higher-gear tranny.
There’s also the matter of increasingly stringent U.S. fuel economy standards driving (pun intended) accelerated technology development in every aspect of motor vehicle transportation – transmissions included.
When will Chrysler get the new nine-speed gearbox and what models will it go on first? Autopia reports that Chrysler should get the new transmission in two years, although there are no specific models yet identified to get it. But one thing is fairly certain. Anticipated double-digit improvements in fuel economy should vault Chrysler models with the nine-speed gearbox to the head of the pack – garnering new customers as well as repeat ones.
For more information on the models listed here, see Bengt Halvorson’s review of the 2011 BMW 5-Series, and Marty Padgett’s preview of the all-new 2011 Audi A8. Also check out The Car Connection preview of the 2011 Chrysler 300.
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