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Ford and GM team up on fuel-saving 9- and 10-speed transmissions


April 18, 2013

Ford and GM are developing a new generation of transmissions

Ford and GM are developing a new generation of transmissions

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Over the course of the past several years, German manufacturer ZF Friedrichshafen has introduced 8- and 9-speed transmissions. Vehicle models from the likes of Chrysler and Land Rover have made use of the new hardware, touting fuel economy gains and other advantages. Now, the other two major Detroit auto manufacturers are teaming up to develop 9-speed transmissions of their own, and they're taking it one step further: 10-speed transmissions.

GM and Ford announced on Monday that they are cooperating on the development of 9- and 10-speed transmissions toward better vehicle performance and improved fuel economy. The transmissions will eventually make their way to front-wheel and rear-wheel drive cars, crossovers, trucks and SUVs across both manufacturers' line-ups.

"Engineering teams from GM and Ford have already started initial design work on these new transmissions," said Jim Lanzon, GM vice president of global transmission engineering. "We expect these new transmissions to raise the standard of technology, performance and quality for our customers while helping drive fuel economy improvements into both companies’ future product portfolios."

While such a team-up between two rival-giants might seem strange, automakers work jointly on projects all the time – the Toyota FT 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ being a well-known recent example. Such partnerships help to pool resources, save costs and speed development.

GM and Ford state that this marks the third time in 10 years that they're collaborating on transmissions. Both companies together have delivered more than 8 million jointly developed 6-speed front-wheel-drive transmissions, including on popular models like the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Malibu.

GM and Ford will build the transmissions at their own respective plants and independently match them to individual vehicles, but they will use common, interchangeable hardware.

At March's Geneva Motor Show, Land Rover showed what it called the world's first 9-speed transmission (the ZF HP9) on a passenger car. Ten-speed transmissions remain a technology of the future.

"Ten-speeds put them ahead," Jim Hall, analyst at 2953 Analytics LLP, told the Detroit News. "People now are working on eights and nines. Tens are on the bleeding-edge side."

Based on past public comments, ZF won't be rushing to compete against Ford and GM. In November, its CEO Stefan Sommer suggested at the Automobilwoche Congress in Berlin that more than nine gears could exceed the point of diminishing returns. He said that the added weight and complexity of more gears would eliminate the fuel economy advantages.

A Ford spokesperson told us that technological advances over the past few years have helped to cut internal drag losses, thereby reducing the penalty for adding more gears and empowering enough potential fuel economy increase to make developing a 10-speed worthwhile. He clarified that the 10-speed is being designed for rear-wheel-drive applications and could be particularly well-suited to trucks

GM declined to provide a technical response to Sommer's comments and said that they were not making executives available for interview. A spokesperson stated simply that the comments are Sommer's opinion and reiterated the general goals of improved performance and increased fuel economy.

Of course, ZF had a shiny new 9-speed transmission to advertise when Sommer made those comments, and rumors of 10-speeds from the GM-Ford partnership and Hyundai were already circulating at the time. We don't see GM and Ford putting the work into development without some solid perceived gains. How successful they'll be at realizing those gains remains to be seen.

Sources: Ford/GM, Autoweek

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

Conceptually if you just put a 2 speed in series with a 5 speed you will have a 10 speed. You could cut multiple gears into a single forging and spin the whole thing with just 2 bearings. Or you could could modify the design of a Pelton wheel so it has multiple rings of cups on the side of a disk and run the output through a high ratio reduction gear. Put cups on the other side facing the other direction will give you a range of gears in revers as well.


It is called a split differential Slowburn, usually very heavy, also ZF gear boxes Chris are designated 4hp, 5hp 6 hp not HP 9 it would be a 9HP then another number to reflect how much horse power it can withstand, hence 5HP-19 or 5HP-24

Bill Bennett

Why waste money designing and building a new design of gearbox when there are already perfectly good ones available, at good prices, made by gearbox specialists?

The answer: So that you can say it is made in America and get all xenophobic about foreign products.This is ridiculous nationalism at its best, not to mention reinventing the wheel.

More gears is not a measure of how good a gearbox is in terms of efficiency or feel. I bet the ZF gearbox's will still be better because they are made by gearbox experts and not ordinary car manufacturers. Ford and GM would be better off spending their money on improving quality control measures for the vehicles they currently make instead.


5 gears, 6, 7, 8, 9, ... geezuz chrysti, can you just quit with the more gears b.s. and go CVT like you really want to. What's the point? Your 25 gear transmission still will be no match for CVT, so quit creeping up to the finish line and just stand up and run over it already.


I'm with PDB. Instead of putting all this money into 9- and 10-speed transmissions, why not spend the same or even less on CVT? After all, CVTs are already in some cars, and you have NuVinci already trying hard to get solidly in the market. Surely there are other suitable designs, too.

Anne Ominous

re; PimplyDykBallz

CTVs suffer from high internal friction and corresponding wear rates, and slip under high torque loads.


re; Oztechi

Do you really think that Ford and GM don't have their own gear box experts?

There is also cost Ford and GM don't need to make a profit on gear boxes so they will get The ones they build themselves at cost.

Maybe they want their new transmissions to be compatible with engines that have already been built.

Experts aren't always right.

Maybe they want their new transmissions to be lubricated with the same Glycerol antifreeze solution that they are going to be using in their engines. (Unlikely but stranger things have happened.)


QFT. CVTs cannot yet take the power of a transmission with conventional gearsets. They work with smaller cars, but with more powerful cars, they simply do not hold up.

Michael Wilson

@Slowburn, take a look at Torotrak. They make a CVT , and I think they were before NuVinci. There are no belts to wear out. Their system also includes KERS.

David Clarke

Ah the last gasps of a dying tech. At best this will increase fuel eff by 2-3%. So they increase eff from 7 to 7.2%, big whop!!

But eliminating it, the engine and replacing it with a many x's more eff E motor increases eff 200-600%!

My lightweight EV's get 250 and 500mpg equivalents and only cost 25% of a gas version to run.

Tesla sent them the memo but I guess they didn't read it.


My point was not that CVTs are ready today! Neither are 10-speed transmissions!

I was saying that since BOTH are NEAR being ready, why not spend the research money on improving CVTs, rather than on more complicated geared transmissions? The latter would seem to be a step backward. (Other than improved precision design and machining, of course.)

The advantages of a larger CVT would be many: less operating friction (if it were like NuVinci), far fewer parts, which means lower cost, and no abrupt transitions from shifting means control is far easier. And being continuous also gives it a smoother ride.

Anne Ominous

How about the original CVT? It's the Buick Dynaflow from the late 40's/early 50's. I was only 6 or 7, but I can still remember my neighbor's 50 Buick 2 door fastback sounding like it was going 100 when it crept by doing about 15 mph... 0 to 60 could clocked with a sand dial.


When a CVT breaks you are always stuck. I drove a 4-speed stick with a burned out second without a problem.

re; David Colton Clarke

OK that company has got my interest especially their flywheel hybrid system. But their heavy equipment CVT doesn't alter the fact that CTVs slip more than an equivalent conventional gear box.

re; Charlie Nudelman

They also used carbon fiber brakes with the life expectancy of one race too.

re; Maverick62

An under-performing torque-converter is not CVT.

re; jerryd

Pay back the subsidy and replace the battery and then we can talk about cost effectiveness.


Michael Wilson: The CVT were used in F1 (850-1000 hp 17000 rpm) before they banned.

Charlie Nudelman

anything that produces higher mpgs i am for. if something better comes along, great!


I've got a bit of transmission rebuilding experience since I've been doing it for over 25 years now, and to say that the actual ROI for more than 4 gears in an automatic with a lock up torque converter bespeaks a lack of understanding of what goes on in a gear box and a belief in pipe dreams. It looks good on paper, but out in the REAL world, how important is it really to keep an engine in a narrow range of RPM like that? A Cummins NTCC 350 Diesel engine with an Eaton 13 speed Road Ranger behind it isn't all that much different than a Fuller 9 speed when you're actually hauling load. Especially if you have a Hi/Low rear axle in the mix. Shifting every 200 RPM? You only really need to do that when you're at maximum weight going up hill. On level ground, I often skipped gears with no problem. So diminishing returns plays a big part here. The added weight of the additional gears and clutch packs in the car trans as well as likelihood of something going wrong and cost cutting measures of making the gears as small as possible for space savings spells nothing but disaster for me, except in MY wallet as I will be repairing these pieces of crap once they hit my shop!! It's stuff like this makes me ask the perennial question of "What the heck were they smoking over there??" The CVT in the Scaturn was the biggest POS we ever saw come in on a hook. The weakest point in them is the three ball bearings on the shaft that transmits the power, they're only about 9MM diameter (.375") and ALL of the torque and HP relies on them to get to the final drive section. They couldn't find a bigger bearing somewhere?!?!


Expanded Viewpoint
My guess is that this is a negative effort. It will raise the cost of vehicles. Further repair or rebuild will become a death sentence for a vehicle as these transmissions will cost a fortune if anything goes wrong. To but a vehicle used will become a serious gamble as any trouble with the transmission will send the vehicle to the wreckers. And savings in energy will be eaten by the energy of making the transmission as well as the weight of lugging it around. Savings to the environment will also be negative. If we really get serious about saving gasoline the first step would be weight reduction and size reduction of the vehicles. Allowing less vehicles on the road is another real world solution. Maybe it is high time for people to live very close to their work. Commuting is not energy friendly nor is it Earth friendly nor is it socially acceptable. Jim Sadler
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