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William Maley

Industry News: ZF NA President Says Automatic Transmission Arms Race Nearing An End

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William Maley

Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com

July 10, 2012

In 1939, Oldsmobile introduced the first automatic transmission dubbed Hydra-Matic. Hydra-Matic came four forward gears and a reverse gear. Fast forward 73 years and we have vehicles with six, seven, and even eight-speed automatics. And then there is the talk about vehicles getting nine and even ten speed transmission. This of course has the peanut gallery making comments of when we're going to see an eighteen-speed transmission.

"We are coming close to the limit," said ZF North American president Julio Caspari.

Caspari believes automakers are adding more gears for marketing and not for fuel efficiency gains, citing that there is only an 11% gap between the best transmissions today and a perfect transmission.

"Can we produce a perfect transmission, and what would it cost? We would need to look at things like ceramic ball bearings to reduce friction, which would be expensive," Caspari went onto say.

Source: Automotive News (Subscription Required)

William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.com or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.

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The "perfect" transmission is a CVT with a wider range of ratios.... but lots of people won't drive CVTs.

Why not? Cost of repair/replacement or unfamiliarity?

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It doesn't "feel" right because it doesn't make the same engine noises as daddies car did when shifting through the gears.

I didn't need much convincing, but my week with the maxima was enough to sell me on them. Of they can get the ratio spread higher, the CVT really could be the next step after they can't put more gears into the traditional automatic.

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Nissan's CVTs are the best in the business, and the only ones that don't feel like they suck all of the power from the engine. I drove a Caliber with a CVT and hated it.

Thing is, I'm in that group of people who prefers the engine shift through the gears rather than the rpms constantly increasing. Nothing wrong with good (Nissan) CVTs, its just a preference. Personally, I think 6 or seven speeds is enough for an automatic.

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The neat thing about the nissan cvts is their ability to accelerate the car without engine rpm increasing under light medium throttle. it is the absolute most efficient way to accelerate a car.

I'd say that 8 speeds are probably the top (as chrysler seems to be proving) for automatics and any more than that is just needless complexity that would be better served with a CVT.

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Not sure if I've had any experience w/ CVTs at all...maybe a rental car or two (about the only one I can think of that probably was a CVT was a Ford Five Hundred).

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CVT's are the future for cars, just not Performance or Trucks/SUV's. Eventually the CVT will be the standard for any gas powered car.

Electric is a whole nother ball game.

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Ahhhh. Electric cars: completely flat torque curve with no need to shift into anything. Too bad they could not survive all that well in an angry winter (e.g. Detroit or Minneapolis).

As for the Ford 500 (now the Taurus), I suspect that Ford found it cheaper to license GM for those 6ATs than pursue CVTs all alone. Of course, they could have called Nissan for those.

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