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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.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 76 Comments
      Tim Tav
      • 2 Years Ago
      Just like computers. How much processing speed is enough? Its all becomes a marketing scheme that the general (uneducated) public buy into. People complain that their 6-speed automatics do to much shifting, what do they think the 8-, 9-, 10- speeds are going to do?
        Buckus Comments
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Tim Tav
        Shift less? I dunno. I have a DSG and I hardly feel it shift at all, unlike my old 4-speed where the whole car would lunge forward after shifting.
      methos1999
      • 2 Years Ago
      I suspect transmission design may move away from adding gears, and just improving CVT efficiency. Afterall, adding more and more gears is just another way of keeping the engine at optimal RPMs, which is exactly what a CVT does.
        Buckus Comments
        • 2 Years Ago
        @methos1999
        The problem - er, perceived problem - wtih CVT is that people don't like them. They complain about "Rubberbanding" and "engine drone" and that "It doesn't feel like what I'm used to." Which is absolutely ridiculous because it's a completely different kind of transmission. And that engine drone? That's the engine operating at the most efficient speed for the given driving conditions, instead of going up and down in RPM which decreases fuel economy. Eventually, as the world becomes more familiar with CVT's, I think they'll become the dominant transmission for cars, but for now, the old-folks don't like it so they won't get it. It'll take a few generations.
          k_m94
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Buckus Comments
          In terms of transmitting power they are still not as efficient as geared transmissions, and while the final mpg numbers can be altered in their favor by running at the most efficent rpm consistently, it still means the car ends up being a lot slower and a heckuva lot less interesting to drive. We have become accustomed to noticing and hearing increasing rpm directly proportional to increasing road speed, but it is disconcerting to have the engine speed seeming to have nothing to do with rate of travel. It makes sense on economy chasing full hybrids, where the whole point is to save that extra half mpg, and in addition, a CVT simply is most compatible with trying to link electric with gas engine propulsion. But if other transmissions are more efficient, and more engaging and natural feeling to operate, can you blame us for not taking nicely to CVTs?
          suthrn2nr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Buckus Comments
          in terms of fun, how many auto trans customers care about having fun while driving? How many CR-V, civic, corolla, elantra, camry, etc shoppers care about a "more fun" transmission, or balanced chassis, or good steering feel? 99% of customers dont care about fun. You bring up a good point about transmitting power, but in terms of fun it doesnt mean much to non-enthusiasts.
      Master Austin
      • 2 Years Ago
      Just imagine that current Corolla buyers are stuck with a 27 year old 4 speed automatic...
      jbm0866
      • 2 Years Ago
      lol..reminds me of the megapixel wars that digital camera makers engaged in (and have now mostly abandoned) or the resolution wars with tv makers..
      MONTEGOD7SS
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm still a fan of 5spd because four gears is enough to go from stopped to really stupid fast in almost anything. The 5th is just a bonus for highway cruising. The limit on gears will only be a limit imposed by the lack of development past the point of a properly engineered CVT. Also, this is assuming that they don't just put a 2speed box aft of the transmissions like semis and have it electronically controlled to double the gears.
      Love Great Danes
      • 2 Years Ago
      Torqueflight 3 speed!
        SloopJohnB
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Love Great Danes
        727 behind a 426 race hemi is enough for anyone.
        MyerShift
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Love Great Danes
        One of the best transmission designs ever! Ma Mopar can do it!
      lasertekk
      • 2 Years Ago
      6.7 gears...perfect.
      MyerShift
      • 2 Years Ago
      Thank God.
      imoore
      • 2 Years Ago
      Yeah, this is rediculous. You may as well but an 18-Wheel tractor, get a CDL license and call it a day.
      guyverfanboy
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have no problems with 8, 9, or 10 speed transmissions if it means better acceleration times and improved fuel economy. :)
        navypond
        • 2 Years Ago
        @guyverfanboy
        Exactly. I wonder what the ZF president will say when he finds out that the new 10 speed by Hyundai is more fuel efficient & better performing than their 9 speed...
      Jake
      • 2 Years Ago
      This couldn't come sooner. IMO it's already out of hand with 8 and 9-speed trannies. Electric assist can help here. You can run a higher (numerically lower) final drive so the 6th or 7th gear would drop the engine rpm low enough for highway cruising. First gear doesn't need to be very short because of the massive low-end torque of the electric motor, and consequently the ratio spacing among the 6 or 7 gears aren't very much. Gear hunting would be reduced too because for moderate passing or inclines, you rely on electric boost as opposed to downshifting.
        Nathan Loiselle
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Jake
        Only hybridizing your vehicle to create a reasonable amount of torque increases the weight of your vehicle drastically by way of the motor and battery. It would be much wiser to use a CVT instead as it allows for the engine to rotate at it's optimum speed efficiency.
      KAG
      • 2 Years Ago
      I got a 4 speed auto and that thing changes like crazy driving fast through the mountain roads. 8 a speed or bigger would be painful doing the same trying to find a gear.
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