Although most of Honda's recent powertrain news has surrounded CVTs and dual-clutch transmissions, that shouldn't be taken as a sign the automaker is abandoning conventional automatics altogether. In fact, the automaker will likely adopt a 9-speed automatic by 2014 at the earliest.
Automotive News first reported in late 2011 that Honda was planning on launching an eight- or nine-speed automatic in the near future, but a source close to the program now tells us the automaker will use the new nine-speed transverse automatic developed by German powertrain supplier ZF.
If that gearbox sounds vaguely familiar, it should: it's set to make its initial debut in a string of Chrysler Group vehicles over the next two years. Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne first hinted at using/developing the transmission in late 2010. Chrysler itself has been relatively mum on the subject, but UAW officials at the company's plant in Toledo, Ohio, have suggested the replacement for the Jeep Liberty will be one of the first applications of the transmission.
The transmission, which ZF calls the 9HP, is designed for transverse installations, making it suitable for front- and all-wheel-drive platforms. Although Honda has typically developed its own transmissions, the 9HP will be a significant departure from Honda's existing automatics in that it utilizes planetary gearsets in order to save space (ZF says the gearbox measures 20.5 inches wide, 16.6 in tall, and 14.5 inches deep).
ZF proclaims the gearbox is capable of handling up to 354 lb-ft of torque, and can support both start/stop and hybrid drive systems. The total gearing spread is quite wide (9.84:1), and taller gear ratios in the upper range of the gearbox allegedly play a big part in improving fuel economy by 10-16 percent. The supplier claims an engine mated to the 9HP needs to run at a mere 1900 rpm in order to propel a vehicle at 75 mph.
Honda officials refrained from confirming or denying the gearbox or its future applications, noting it's company policy not to comment on future product plans. Given every Honda and Acura model currently on the market places its engine in a transverse fashion, the possibilities are theoretically endless, but we wouldn't be surprised if this transmission is relegated to heavier and more upscale midsize models. Models like the Odyssey and Pilot, along with the Acura MDX and TL, are all potential recepients. Presently, these models utilize Honda's 3.5-liter and 3.7-liter V-6 engines, and produce between 253 and 270 lb-ft of torque, respectively - well within the capabilities of the 9HP.
What remains to be seen is how the 9HP will be rolled out. We know ZF should start building 9HPs within its South Carolina plant in 2013 for Chrysler, but rumor has it Honda won't start using the transmission until 2014. If so, the next-generation Acura TL, which is expected to launch in late 2013, could be one of the first vehicles to utilize the transmission.