Remember the Powerglide? An automatic with two forward speeds, it's almost inconceivable today that such a transmission was ever state of the art. Why, we've heard plenty of grumbling from the peanut gallery about Honda and its continued widespread use of a five-speed automatic when most of the rest of the world is offering six speeds. And then there are those carmakers engaging in the mine-is-bigger-than-yours battle of transmissions that resulted in eight-speed automatics in cars like the Chrysler 300 and Hyundai Genesis pictured above.
German transmission supplier ZF has a nine-speed automatic that will be introduced next year, and reports have said Hyundai is looking to pack ten forward gears into a forthcoming gearbox. What's next? Cars with as many gears as mountain bikes?
That's unlikely, says ZF North American president Julio Caspari, who tells Automotive News that the gear race is "close to the limit." AN says Caspari thinks marketing may be a bigger factor than engineering when it comes to developing transmissions with additional gears, citing just an 11-percent difference between the best transmissions today and a theoretically perfect unit.
Caspari questions the cost-effectiveness of building a so-called "perfect" transmission, saying that further friction reduction would require expensive materials, like ceramic ball bearings.