Mike Colias and Bradford Wernle
September 28, 2012
DETROIT -- General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are jointly designing nine- and 10-speed automatic transmissions for use across their lineups in a bid to boost fuel economy.
GM is leading design of a nine-speed gearbox for use in front-wheel-drive vehicles, said three people familiar with the companies' plans. Ford is taking the lead on a 10-speed transmission for rear-wheel-drive vehicles such as pickups, SUVs and performance cars, the sources said.
The companies began work on the transmission program early this year, one supplier source said. They still are in the design phase and likely won't be prepared to start production before 2015, the source said.
The project is expected to produce significant financial savings in engineering and product development for both automakers. The companies would combine the gearboxes with their separate engines via software and hardware.
A GM spokesman confirmed that the two companies "are in discussions" and have signed a memorandum of understanding "to jointly develop a variety of all-new, fuel-efficient transmissions."
He would not discuss details and said the companies "hope to announce a definitive agreement soon."
A Ford spokesman said: "We always talk to other companies including GM." He declined to elaborate.
The New York Times today reported that the companies plan to jointly develop automatic transmissions and are considering a manufacturing alliance.
GM and Ford are playing catchup as other automakers hit the market with gearboxes ranging from seven to nine speeds.
Chrysler Group, through a joint venture with ZF Friedrichshafen, offers an eight-speed automatic in the Chrysler 300 sedan and the 2013 Ram pickup. It is also planning to offer a 9-speed automatic transmission licensed from ZF.
Audi, BMW and Lexus offer eight-speed gearboxes, while Mercedes-Benz offers a seven-speed.
Mike Omotoso, powertrain analyst for LMC Automotive in suburban Detroit, says the main benefits of adding more gears are fuel economy and refinement.
"The engine has to do less work, so they aren't revving as much as they used to with fewer forward gears," he said.
The partnership expands a transmission alliance dating to 2002, when Ford and GM agreed to work together on a family of six-speed automatics for fwd vehicles.
The transmissions, including the Ford 6F and GM 6T70, have been installed in millions of vehicles including the Ford Fusion and Escape, and the Chevrolet Malibu and Cruze.