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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ford Reveals Plans for New In-House-Designed Eight-Speed Automatic Transmission

2010 Ford Taurus Limited

We greedy, MPG-grubbing, gear-hoarding car shoppers. Look what we’ve done now. Ford has a perfectly good six-speed automatic, co-developed with General Motors—the master of slushboxes—deploying power throughout most of its front-drive vehicle lineup. The Fiesta and the new Focus use a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which we assume was co-developed with engineering input from Hal, the computer from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey that distrusted human judgment rather a lot.

But as a result of our avarice, Ford has no choice but to announce a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox will be designed and built internally by Ford—a bit of a surprise in this era, when high costs have driven manufacturers to often buy transmissions from specialists like ZF and Aisin. Ford says the new transmission will deliver improvements in fuel economy from between two and six percent, depending on the application.

Although the company hasn’t said which cars will receive the new octo-cogger, hints of front-drive applications and the description of it as a “transaxle” pretty much rule out eight-speed Mustangs or F-150s. Ford implied that the Taurus, Explorer, and Edge are prime candidates when a spokesperson said that the gearbox would be more advantageous in “larger” vehicles. We must admit that we’ll be a bit disappointed if the Fiesta and Focus aren’t slated for the new transmission, as we’ve said just once or twice that the dual-clutch PowerShift transmission on which they both depend is those vehicles’ only truly significant flaw.

Ford hasn’t said when the new box will hit the market, but we figure that some time in 2012 would be a good guess.

2010 Ford Fusion hybrid

A New Hybrid Transmission, Too

How’s this for vague? Along with the eight-speed automatic, Ford announced that it is also developing—on its own—a new continuously variable transmission for its hybrid models. The transmission is being dubbed an “e-CVT,” or “electronic CVT,” which sounds an awful lot like the transmission in the Fusion and Escape hybrids now. It goes into production in early 2012, by which time we assume we’ll be hearing more about it.

With a continuously variable transmission, there are no gears in the traditional sense—just infinitely variable ratios. This may come in handy when it comes to bragging rights, as Ford’s upcoming eight-speed auto will likely be simultaneously overshadowed by the nine-speed transmission on which ZF and Chrysler are hammering away. Soon enough, we’ll be at bicycle or big-rig numbers.

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