ZF Announces Development of Nine-Speed Transmission, Destined for Chrysler Products

Chrysler hasn’t commented on the news, but Mother Mopar appears to be one step closer to adopting a nine-speed automatic transmission for some of its front-wheel-drive architectures. Driveline supplier and transmission wunderkind ZF confirmed today that it has developed such a transmission, and is preparing to push it into production.

According to ZF, the gearbox will deliver substantial, double-digit fuel economy gains when compared to conventional six-speed transmissions. Part of the fuel economy benefits stems from having additional gears and the ability to install longer gear ratios, but some new technology may help increase mileage as well. ZF says a new shock absorber system housed within the torque converter reportedly allows the converter clutch to lock up (and reduce slip) quicker than conventional designs. Despite the additional gearing, ZF says the compact nine-speed weighs nearly the same as the most six-speed designs.

ZF’s release fails to mention a prime customer for the transmission, but a Detroit News interview with executive vice president Michael Paul confirms Chrysler is planning to use the new transmission. In Paul’s words, the automaker will be one of the company’s “major customers” -- not surprising, considering the company is also adopting an eight-speed longitudinal transmission originally designed and developed by ZF. Production of the transmission, which will occur in a new factory in Greenville, South Carolina, will begin in 2013.

Is there life after nine speeds? The answer is likely no. According to Paul, ZF has reached the limit on the number of gear ratios that can be added to a light-duty transmission while improving fuel economy. During a round table at the auto show, he noted “an entirely different concept” would be necessary to improve fuel economy over these eight- and nine-speed designs.

Source: ZF, The Detroit News

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