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.