The Ocho: Chrysler Licenses ZF Eight-Speed Automatic Transmission

When Chrysler rolled out its business plan late last year, it noted it was "seeking optimal solutions with external partners" for a next-generation longitudinal transmission.

That partner, it seems, is none other than ZF, and the solution appears to build the German company's eight-speed automatic under license here in America.

"This transmission is really a step forward in fuel economy," said Paulo Ferrero, Chrysler's senior vice president of powertrain. "With a wide spread and number of gear [ratios], it will be a significant contributor to the company's 25-percent improvement in fuel economy by 2015."

ZF's eight-speed automatic is already used in a number of vehicles (including BMW's 5 and 7 Series lines), but Chrysler is the first automaker to build the transmission under license. The company plans on plunking nearly $300 million into its plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to build the eight-speed transmissions. Until the assembly line is fully up to speed, Chrysler will purchase finished transmissions directly from ZF.

Neither Chrysler or ZF will discuss applications or specific timing for the transmission, but the automaker notes the gearbox will "contribute to an overall fuel economy improvement across the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram Truck product lineups." Seeing as there are few applications for longitudinal transmissions in Chrysler's lineups, we wouldn't be surprised to see the gearbox in the following:

-Large sedans: Chrysler's reworked LX sedans -- the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger -- are due to launch in the fourth quarter of 2010. We think an eight-speed automatic would be perfect for a premium transmission mated to the company's Hemi 5.7- and 6.1-liter V-8s.

-Large sport-utilities: The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is launching with a ZF six-speed automatic, but seeing as ZF's eight-speed design isn't much larger than the six-gear unit, it wouldn't take much work to make the new transmission fit. Dodge's forthcoming crossover, built upon the Grand Cherokee's architecture, could also utilize the transmission.

-Fullsize Pickups: Yes, it'd be odd to see eight speeds in a full-size pickup, but ZF's design is capable of handling as much as 700 pound-feet of torque -- much more than the Ram 1500's 5.7-liter V-8 could throw down. It'd also allow Ram to offer a fuel-stingy, eco-friendly model trim in lieu of the stillborn Hybrid project.

What say you -- what Chrysler offerings should receive the eight-speed automatic? Would you buy a pickup with more than six gears? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.

Source: Chrysler

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