How many is too many? When you're talking the number of ratios offered in automatic transmissions, it seems the industry is always interested in adding one more gear; four-speeds turned into five, then six, seven and now eight. Where will it all end? According to Stefan Sommer, CEO of transmission maker ZF, nine is the ultimate endgame.

"There is no hard line, but you have to consider the law of diminishing returns. The question is whether adding even more gears makes sense," he said, speaking at the Automobilwoche Congress in Germany. Back in July, ZF North American president Julio Caspari voiced similar statements, saying that today's best automatic transmissions are very nearly perfect – just 11 percent shy of their theoretical apogee – in efficiency.

Does this mean the race for more gears is officially over? Don't count on it. Automakers ranging from Ford and General Motors to Hyundai are all rumored to be working on automatic gearboxes with as many ratios as you have fingers and thumbs. As we're so often reminded, it seems the mine-is-bigger-than-yours marketing ethos will always be in play...

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