By on April 10, 2013

What do the Volvo XC60 and Lexus RX F-Sport have in common? Not much. Yet. Today’s vehicles aren’t just built on “modular” platforms, sharing parts with other vehicles from the same manufacturer, they are also “parts bin creations.” You’ll find the same power mirror switch in a Chevy, Jeep, Peugeot, Citroën, Lancia, Lincon and many more. That’s because car parts are like Lego pieces, made by a handful of car parts companies and designed to be everything for everyone. It’s cheaper for everyone to design one switch, one control module, one key fob and just alter some of the plastics and a connector to suit your new car design.

Parts sharing isn’t new of course, it’s been going on ever since “badge engineering” was invented in 1917, but this is different. Instead of one company buying parts from another, or GM tossing a new logo on an Oldsmobile to create a Buick, these parts are made by a third party, available for sale to anyone with the cash. Ever wonder how Fiskar and Tesla can create a unique vehicle so quickly? The universal parts bin is how.

Most car companies dive into the same interior parts bins time after time, rarely seeking new foraging grounds. This is why the Big Three seem to frequently share things like those window switches, seat controls, etc. Meanwhile the Europeans and Japanese tend to have their own circle of parts suppliers. It’s also why the Coda sedan looks so odd to Americans; Coda raided a Chinese market parts bin. When it comes to powertrains, geographic divisions drop because engines and transmissions are expensive to develop resulting in a smaller global pond to fish from.

The big boys in passenger car automatic transmission design are: ZF, GM, Aisin, Mercedes, Jatco and Hyundai. Why am I not including Chrysler and Honda? Chrysler is easy: they have chosen to license/tweak transmissions from ZF rather than developing their own. Ford can’t make up their mind co-developing a 6-speed transaxle with GM, then licensing ZF’s 6-speed RWD swapper. All indications seem to point to Ford licensing the 8-speed RWD box from ZF while splitting development costs with GM on new xx-speed transaxles for smaller cars. Honda doesn’t tend to sell its in-house transmissions to other companies and if the rumor mill is correct, Honda will be buying ZF’s 9-speed transaxle while they shift R&D dollars to CVT development.

What does that mean to you as a consumer? And why are we talking Volvo and Lexus? Because companies tend to stick with a transmission maker for the long haul. BMW has a history of buying GM and ZF. Luxury car companies (and now Ford and Chrysler) typically use ZF cog-swappers. Ford Europe and Renault are in bed with Jatco. Chrysler likes Hyundai’s FWD transaxles. Toyota, Lexus, Volvo, MINI, VW, Mitsubishi and Porsche order from Aisin’s transmission catalog. Consequently when a new Euro sedan comes out with ZF’s latest widget, you know that sooner-or-later every ZF customer have it. (There is usually a delay because companies will pay extra to have a period of exclusive access to new technology.)

When the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport dropped quietly last year at a Lexus event, I was excited and intrigued. Not by the refreshed RX, but by what;s under the hood: the first production 8-speed automatic transaxle. Since the RX is a Lexus, we know that the transmission was made by Aisin (Toyota doesn’t use anyone else). Logically it was only a matter of time until this tranny landed on the Aisin general catalog and today appears to be that day. As a footnote in Volvo’s press release about their new four-cylinder engine family is buried one line “Volvo will also introduce a new 8-speed automatic gearbox that contributes to a refined drive and excellent fuel economy.” I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts the new slushbox is the same 8-speed unit that’s in the RX F-Sport I’m driving this week. Next stop: 8-speed Mazda 6, VW Jetta, MINI Cooper.

If you’ve ever wondered why it took so long for the four speed automatic to be developed, while 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 speed units have happened so rapidly, part of the answer is in this shift to communal parts-bin technology. While this means technology can develop more rapidly with more resources being applied to the same development project, it also means cars lack the uniqueness they once had. No longer can we sit around the card table drinking beer and arguing the eternal question: TorqueFlite vs Cruise-O-Matic vs Hydra-Matic.

 

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96 Comments on “Read between the lines: Volvo’s 8-speed automatic...”


  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …You’ll find the same power mirror switch in a Chevy, Jeep, Peugeot, Citroën, Lancia, Lincon and many more…

    But no matter what, the one in the Chevy will be described as coming from Playskool, and the one in the other makes models will be described as having, “a rich feel with positive response to the touch, like a power mirror switch should be.”

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      APaGttH, I agree. All too often reviewers out there will say things like that. It’s also worth noting that people will complain about the same transmission used in different cars, while there is obviously going to be software tweaking, on the whole they shift and feel the same.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Software tweaks, but also wouldn’t the vehicle and engine the transmission sits in also make a big difference in feel? I can’t help but thing of the Dart we were all discussing yesterday. The 1.4T MultiAir is by all accounts a beast in the 500 Abarth, but saddle an extra 800 or so lbs to it and all of a sudden its a dog. This is slightly a different condition but I feel the point is valid. Poor matchups of engine, transmission and vehicle must have some effect on the feel of a transmission.

        Any thoughts?

        • 0 avatar
          Alex L. Dykes

          Yep. Broad torque curves take better advantage of the high overdrive gears in modern transmissions. The RX has to downshift from 8 to 7 to stay at 75MPH while going over freeway overpasses. I suspect the same transmission bolted to Volvo’s 300HP turbo 6 would not need to do this because of the flat torque curve. Likewise the naturally aspirated V6 in the Lexus IS and Mercedes C vs the turbos in the BMW and Audi.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            So the exact same transmission could be accused of being “indecisive” and “hunts for gears constantly” simply due to software tuning and and the engine its saddled to. Makes sense.

            I am typically a three pedal driver and I found the six speed slusher in a 2011 Ford Escape 2.5L company vehicle to be dumb as a bag of rocks. Is that an example of a six speed box used in many varying applications? I had never known what reviewers meant when they said “constantly upshifting, and can’t decide on a gear when power is needed” before. Its atrocious.

          • 0 avatar
            Onus

            I think the 6 speed in the escape is the gm/ford 6 speed transaxle.

          • 0 avatar
            kmoney

            It’s worth noting too that just because two companies are using the same transmission the transmissions aren’t exactly the same. Many of these are the same base units, but with customization to the individual customer’s specs. Many of them have circuits added or omitted from the value body, different numbers clutches and different friction material on each of these clutches in order to tailor shift feel, or different size servos to accomplish the same. Front wheel drive transaxles, as discussed above, will almost always have specific final drive ratios to best suit their intended application.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        APaGttH makes a great point, and so do you, Alex. The transmission complaints I find laughable quite often. It’ll be great in one car, but not as good in the other. Sure, powerband and tuning make a difference, but not as much as people think.

        That ZF 8-speed has gone a lot of places, but for some reason people criticize it less in the Chrysler 300. I wonder why…

        By the way, many cars have adaptive shifting to better match your habits. From time to time, I do wonder if some people would complain less about their shifting woes if they reset the adaptive shifting. One person I can think of in particular is CJinSD because he specifically mentioned that his car has two different drivers.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          Is it possible to reset what the car has already learned? My buddy as an 07 Altima V6 CVT, and he says it often fights with him. But given the nature of that car, when it finally relents it goes like hell.

          • 0 avatar
            Alex L. Dykes

            It depends on the vehicle. Some cars can be reset by pulling the fuse on the transmission control module for a period of time.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            Usually there’s a way. There are probably things you could look at online. On some cars, it could be “disconnect the battery for a period of time” — that might be the case for the Altima. It might be pulling a fuse. It might be something like VCDS for VW/Audi.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            A better question is not if it can be reset, but if the car’s ability to recognize unique drivers (seat/mirror position memory) can be extended to engine/transmission settings. Honestly, I don’t see why not. Actually, I’m surprised that we haven’t already seen this with radio stations/equalizers. Ford is moving in this direction with their specialized key tech (MyKey?).

            If fobs had a universal language, you could even rent a car and have it automatically switch to your preferences the moment you ope the door.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @Redav

            BMW ties just about every user settable setting to the key fob. Seats, radio, lights, door locks, you name it. Always VERY obvious with my car, because I only ever use one of the keys. If I use the other one for some reason everything is all akimbo.

            They also keep much of the cars service history in it, the Service Advisor sticks the key in a reader attached to their computer and gets a full listing.

        • 0 avatar
          George B

          The same automatic transmission hardware could have different control software. Manufacturer A could have software which makes the automatic transmission very responsive to changing inputs while manufacturer B could have software that tries to hold onto the highest usable gear in order to achieve maximum fuel economy on the EPA test cycle. Software makes choice A “good” and choice B “a real dog”.

    • 0 avatar
      cargogh

      Very true.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      GM with Playskool quality? When did they improve?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Playskool evidently has a big GM contract.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        I have still yet to see why Toyota and Honda exchange leads in recalls since last decade? Or why CTS made Toyota accelerator pedals that stick but no one else had a problem?

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          Maybe Honda and Toyota are more likely to fix issues as they pop up. And the CTS accelerator pedal was proven to work fine. It may have been built a bit more cheaply than the Denso unit but it looks like it works fine There has not been one case where pedal failure has been proven to be the cause. It appears that stacked floor mats are the cause.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            “The only right action for Toyota is to acknowledge the long history of problems with the CTS-type unit, and replace them all with the superior Denso or another pedal unit that lacks the intrinsic flaws of the CTS design.”

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/why-toyota-must-replace-flawed-cts-gas-pedal-with-superior-denso-pedal/

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      It all sounds great but I have taken apart many cars in my day, never seen an American make using the same mirror switch as a foreign make, though the only ones cited were makes not sold in America so I don’t now enough about those, and sort of a weak point in this context to site unavailable French makes.

      The cars on each continent seem to use suppliers from those continents for electrical connectors and switch gear. Show me an American car using Yazaki connectors…(Pontiac Vibe etc doesn’t count). Between similar makes Toyota-Subaru-Nissan for example there is a ton of shared switch gear.

      I understand the greater point but the products are still largely down to the specs the OEM demands of the supplier.

      Maybe there is some interesting opportunities here, maybe aftermarket drivetrain updates for existing models with off the shelf supplier parts.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I can say my ’05 GM U-Body weather beater has the exact same cruise control switch in the exact same position as my mother’s ’03 Camry and they operate exactly the same.

        • 0 avatar
          kmoney

          My 2000 Suburban (onstar still on dash) had the same mirror as my gf’s 2005 Lexus ES. But yeah, this is the only time i’ve ever seen that. That’s why it stuck in my head.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            Those interior rear view mirrors are a good case of truly global parts I think they are all Donelly or Gentex.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        My old 2002 Ford Escape and my 2004 Prius used nearly identical turn signal stalks. They picked different options for how to control the fog lights.

        There’s probably a lot more that’s less obvious. That one just jumped out at me every day – because Ford stuff used to be different. Then again, that era of Escape is a jacked up and modernized Mazda 626 wagon.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Old news, at least for the Europeans. All the same Valeo, Bosch, Hella, etc. bits for ages. Brake hardware too. Girdling, Ate, Brembo, etc. And the Europeans tend to use the same parts across multiple generations of cars. The Americans and Japanese seem to change things on a whim.

    Of course this leads to what I have always considered a German plot – it seems like all the troublesome bits in all the non-German European cars I have owned have been from German suppliers. Funny how that works…

    There also is still a certain element of “Bosch will sell you any level of quality you are willing to pay for”. From Chinese crap to hand-rubbed by virgin German craftsmen!

    • 0 avatar
      mik101

      Isn’t Brembo Italian?
      If it’s all a German plot, can we talk about Lucas electronics? Lol

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Sounds like you are familiar with European cars. If you spend some time with the American or Japanese makes, you’ll see they are all evolutionary in their own way. I can bolt a Brembo caliper from a new 2013 Subaru STI on to a 1989 Legacy…

  • avatar
    James2

    My first-gen Mazda 6 has an Aisin 6-speed. A little clunky in 2nd and 4th gears but otherwise a smooth operator. Who builds their Skyactiv transmission, which is supposed to split the difference between a torque converter automatic and a dual-clutch gearbox?

  • avatar
    Hummer

    At this rate the only thing automakers will be able to advertise as making their vehicle “better” then the competition will be the logo on the front

  • avatar
    slance66

    Learned this when it came time to flush the transmission fluid in my 2001 Volvo S60 with an Aisin 5 sp AT. Volvo sold the fluid for $20 a quart! Toyota, for just over $5. Moronic indy Volvo mechanics would only use “genuine Volvo parts” so the cost was insane everywhere. Did it in my garage.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      More generally, sometimes you will see Manufacturer X say a transmission has “lifetime” fluid, whereas Manufacturer Y using the same transmission doesn’t. Or sometimes ZF themselves will say something different from the manufacturer using the ZF transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        Wouldn’t that depend on the weight and power of the car? A 2800 pound car with a 140bhp engine would presumably generate less heat and wear than the same transmission in a 3800lb car with a 270bhp engine.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          I believe it’s more dependent on torque than horsepower.

          Just off-hand, it’s possible the two cars you’re describing might have entirely different transmissions because of the level of torque.

          I think the question for me is whether I trust ZF or Aisin who makes the transmission, or the manufacturer who says “it’s lifetime fluid!” In some cases, it’ll be the same car in Germany vs. the U.S., and the requirements are different.

          • 0 avatar
            RedStapler

            I’ll second that its all about the Torque.

            Chrysler put the 545RFE behind the Hemi and 4.7 V8 and it did ok. When they put it behind the 2.8 I4 Common Rail Diesel in the KJ Liberty the torque converter had the life expectancy of the unnamed guy in a red shirt who beams down with Kirk, Spock and Bones to a hostile planet.

            On paper the Hemi had more peak torque, but the CRD gave the trans the highest average torque.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            Torque output dictates allot of things. With the Japanese manual transmission test drive reviews clamoring over how well they shift, they usually produced and have to control less engine torque.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    Regarding Honda … Unless there is a major change in the way Honda engineers there vehicles, there will not be a Honda transaxle used in any other vehicle, nor will any transaxle designed for any other vehicle ever show up in a Honda.

    Reason: Honda transverse engines are installed on the “wrong” side of the car from the way everyone else does it, and when you look at the front pulley, they spin in the “wrong” direction.

    While it’s certainly possible for the internals of a transmission to be kept pretty much the same while flipping the whole assembly left to right, there are certain major components that cannot be flipped and would require new castings and new machining to be installed in that manner – notably, the transmission case, and any rotation-sensitive parts inside, notably any oil pump or torque converter. There’s enough cost just in those parts to be something of a barrier. Possible … sure, but it’s an extra cost that only Honda would have to pay, since they are the odd one out.

    Or maybe Honda will give up, and finally rework their engines to spin the other way and install the engine on the right and the transmission on the left, the way everyone else does it … And Honda would also have to give up on their layshaft-design arrangement and finally use planetary gears.

    When Saturn used a Honda engine in the VUE some years ago, they had to use the entire engine and transmission package because of this. The engine compartment doesn’t care too much which side the engine or transmission is on – only the subframe with the engine and transmission mounts, and this is no big deal.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      Agreed that it’s not feasible to swap a transverse transaxle L for R. However…

      The V6 in my Honda Odyssey is on the *right*.

      Also, given the abysmal durability of Honda automatics (when paired with a V6), why would any other maker want to buy a Honda transaxle?

      stuart

    • 0 avatar
      mik101

      Hasn’t been that way for years with the 4cyls at least. K/R engines sit on the passenger side. You’re thinking of B/D based vehicles which stopped in 2000/2001 and 2005 respectively.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      The side of the car the engine is on has more to do with the major market that cars was designed for. A car designed for mainly for the US will have the transmission on the left because that frees up more room for the brake booster and master cylinder. Cars designed to be both RHD and LHD drive are more of a crapshoot though.

      That VUE also had the engine on the right, as does the Odyssey it came from.

      The engine spinning the other way is a different challenge though.

      • 0 avatar
        Power6

        A transverse engine is always mounted “right” or “left” based on the rotation, it rotates in the forward direction of the drive wheels (typically clockwise i.e. the “left” mounting.) The Honda J35A3 motor you mention does in fact rotate counter-clockwise hence the “right” mounting. It has absolutely nothing to do with LHD vs RHD.

    • 0 avatar
      jco

      likely because it is the only longitudinal-mount FR model they’ve done (barring the motorcycle-engine previous S cars), the S2000 used the same Aisin transmission as some versions of the MIata and the RX8. Also the Lexus IS200, which fits in with it being a Toyota.

      that was far and away the best transmission in any car I’ve ever driven, ever. manual, auto, or dual-clutch.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    When you say Hyundai mkes alot of transmission, is that the division of Hyundai that makes cars, or the division of Hyundai that makes fantastic heavy equipment, or a seperate subsidiary of Hyundai all together? It is easy to forget that like GM, Hyundai doesn’t just make cars. Similar question of the GM transmission you mention. Its own seperate subsidiary? Something akin to Isuzu?

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    Actually, Mazda develops their own transmissions. FIAT buys from FIAT Powertrain so I’m not sure how much longer Chrysler will be in bed with ZF and Hyundai. I think Subaru develops their own, but it’s based off of a JATCO CVT design.

    Can’t believe you guys forgot about FIAT. :)

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      FIAT does their own dual-clutch transmissions but as far as I know they don’t currently make their own traditional automatic. (The 500 in America uses an Aisin unit.) Alfa Romeo and Lancia use Aisin units quite often so I don’t think the ZF deal is in much trouble. Rather I have a feeling that FIAT was the driving force behind that deal because in house transmission development is expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Subaru stopped developing their own with their ancient 5-speed manual they still use, I understand Aisin helped them develop their 4-speed auto, Borg-warner helped develop their 6-speed STI trans and their 5- speed auto and CVT trans are by Jatco. Makes sense for such a small automaker to outsource.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        The Subaru 4EAT is also Jatco. It started life as a 3 speed and was finally put out to pasture from its last application by the CVT in the new Forester. But its bones, as it were, live on in casing doing the AWD split and short shaft running along the side of it back to the front diff.

        Kind of like your bolting on Brembos from a 2013 STI onto an ’89 Legacy. Good luck getting the original wheels back on! If my LGT is anything to go by.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    This bears repeating:

    Many cars have adaptive shifting to better match your habits. From time to time, I do wonder if some people would complain less about their shifting woes if they reset the adaptive shifting.

    When you drive a rental car that has had previous drivers, the car may have adapted to one of their preferences instead of yours, so you may think the transmission is doing a crappy job, when in reality it’s the software. In an ideal world, you’d reset the transmission so it learned your preferences better. Do manufacturers do this with press cars?

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    Mazda has historically used a mixture of Jatco, Ford and Aisin transmissions. Most 5 speed transaxles (5F31J) are Jatco units, their older 4-speed units were Ford designs. The 6 speed units are Aisin units while the SkyActive transmissions are an unanswered question. My rumor mill says they are Aisin sourced internals with Mazda modifications.

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      Great article, Alex. Wish this site had stickies because this should be one.

      I think the SkyActiv auto is Aisin, too, because the BRZ/FR-S auto has the exact same lock-up features. Of course, one is a transaxle the other a normal RWD casing, but similar guts I bet. Gives plausible deniability to Mazda and Toyota – it’s all our own work your honor!

      What do you think?

  • avatar
    spw

    Doesnt hurt that Aisin is part of Toyota conglomerate, i think around 60% business is Toyota Group.

    Also, manufacturers often buy license for transmissions and build it themselves.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I read this article with some amusement, because the clock is turning full circle. Back in the 1920′s, the vast majority of mid-priced independents (Jordan, Kissel, etc.) were what was called an “assembled car”. Which was another way of saying that the manufacturer didn’t have all that much of a design department. Rather it bought its engine from one manufacturer (Lycoming, Continental and Buda were huge names in this category), transmissions from another manufacturer, and so on. About the only stuff that was actually done in-house was the styling of the body (as far as styling went in the pre-GM Art and Color days), and the decisions as to what parts were to be combined.

    This was a good idea for the go-go Twenties, once the Depression hit it was showed to be a more expensive way to build a car and its purveyors rapidly fell, virtually none surviving into the 1935 model year.

    Now we’re back to a modified version of the Twenties system – only this time, everyone is using it.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @Syke. It’s funny you mention Lycoming and Continental, as the business model you describe is alive and well in the industry where those two companies still compete, aviation. You look at a general aviation aircraft, and you can expect (if its a small aircraft) avionics by Garmin or Avidyne, engine by Continetal or Lycoming, propellor by Hartzell or Hamilton Standard, etc. Turbines will use Garmin, Rockwell Collins, or Honeywell avionics packages, engines by Pratt & Whitney, Honeywell, or Rolls-Royce, and on large jets, interior and paintwork is often done at a separate plant than the manufacturing facility, even if done in house.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Can anyone tell me who makes the Nissan CVT? I know it was a Jatco but they had some massive problems. Research tells me that they now show no statistical difference in the breakdown rate than any other automatic transmission. Did they change the source or was something else done.

    Whatever they did I hope the reliability they claim is valid.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      It’s almost certainly Jatco. Jatco is to Nissan as Aisin is to Toyota. It was spun out of Nissan. Jatco also provides CVTs to many other companies.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Nissan had massive failures of those early Jatco’s so they extended the warranty on them significantly. I do know of someone with a four cylinder 2009 Altima that had the CVT fail at 40K miles, but this seems to be an exception, not the rule. I own an Altima at 60K miles and the trans has been trouble free. But the hybrid has a different transmission than other Nissan CVTs I was told. Don’t know if that is really true, but in any event I will have this car for well over 100K so we will see…

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    “Honda will be buying ZF’s 9-speed transaxle while they shift R&D dollars to CVT development.”

    By the way, that’s the same 9-speed in the Range Rover Evoque and the new Jeep Cherokee. People will probably still say that the implementation is unreliable in the Rover, but their Honda is bullet-proof 5 years from now. :)

  • avatar
    RRocket

    “When the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport dropped quietly last year at a Lexus event, I was excited and intrigued. Not by the refreshed RX, but by what;s under the hood: the first production 8-speed automatic transaxle.”

    Alex….not to nitpic, but the 2007 Lexus LS460 had the world’s first 8 speed. Then the 2008 IS-F got it.

    The RX was far from having the first 8 speed.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      When he said transaxle, he means transverse engine FWD layout – and for this the RX was the first. You are right, many RWD platforms had an 8-speed before that but those are not transaxles.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The RX uses the first 8-speed transaxle, the LS and IS use the first 8-speed transmission. There is an important distinction.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    Are Getrag and BorgWarner, and maybe some others that escape me currently still around? Or are “ZF, GM, Aisin, Mercedes, Jatco and Hyundai” pretty much the biggest with the others being bit players.

    I know Getrag made alot of manual transmissions for GM back in the late 90s/early 00s. So much so that it was advertised as a selling feature. Such as the one in my Alero.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Getrag is not a player in the traditional automatic world having parlayed their manual transmission experience to making single and dual clutch automated manuals. Meanwhile BorgWarner makes transmission parts and in conjunction with the VW group makes/supplies parts for DSG transmissions. Aisin and BorgWarner created Aisin Warner as a joint venture but that has been disbanded with Aisin taking up where it left off.

    • 0 avatar
      Onus

      Getrag makes the ford dual clutch transmissions.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “it also means cars lack the uniqueness they once had”

    And as usual, the tremendous talent and effort of the calibration people goes unnoticed.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    Where is the point of diminishing returns with respect to the number of “speeds”? I have to think we’re just about there.

    Obviously, having an “overdrive” speed at all was a major game changer, but I have to think when you start getting into 8 speeds, you’re likely making a weaker, more complicated transmission that’s going to be a “make or break” repair for a consumer some day. Transmission problems were rare in the days of 3 speed C4′s C6s, Th-350, TH-400, etc.

    I currently have a Lexus LS with 6 speeds, and honestly, the last Lexus I owned only had 4 speeds and it drove MUCH better. Lexus had a “recall” of sorts where they reflashed it for better shifting, but it still wants to shift gears at low speeds and just seems awkward (although it’s functioning properly). I’d rather manufacturers throw money into say making the body panels out of aluminum to achieve one more mile per gallon than have a $10k transmission to replace someday.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      If the body panels were made out of aluminum it would take a pretty small amount of damage for a vehicle to be totaled if it wasn’t a very expensive vehicle to begin with.

      I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with aluminum vs steel, but aside from the obvious massive differences in welding techniques needed, repairing aluminum panels is a art very few master

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        I was just using the aluminum as an example, but obviously aluminum CAN be used as body panels, and is being used on several models.

        I know it’s more expensive both for the material and tooling, but so are 8 speed transmissions.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      From an engineering standpoint, 10 speeds would probably require another planetary gearset, so we’re probably not going beyond 9, right away. At some point you’re getting pretty close to a CVT, which historically many people have disfavored (although I hear they’ve gotten better).

      Personally, my daily driver is a stick shift, but I don’t understand the complaints regarding these newer 6- to 9-speed transmissions. They’re more often in the right gear and the shifts are smoother than the transmissions of yore.

      It’s not like 4-speed transmissions were cheap back in the day or anything. You also had to adjust bands on older transmissions too. It’s not clear to me that transmission problems are more or less rare than they were back in the day with 3-speeds or 4-speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        Newer transmissions DEFINITELY have more issues than 3 speeds of yore. The beefier 3 speeds across the brands like Th-400, C6, 727 etc could handle crazy horsepower levels that would destroy 99% of modern car transmissions. Even the less sturdy models could be made to handle anything with minor mods.

        And a shade tree mechanic could rebuild them for minimal cost, you didn’t need to have NASA credentials to rebuild them (which is why they’re usually swapped out now instead of rebuilt at a shop for the newer ones)

        I’m not saying that’s a “better” way at all, but it’s like a mechanical watch. The more complications you put in there, the more you tempt fate.

        • 0 avatar
          joeveto3

          @jacob_coulter I’m with you on this one. Back when only 4-speed autos were available, I thought having a 5 (couldn’t even fathom a six) would be outstanding.

          Then I got one. And then another.

          I ditched my Camry precisely because of the way the 5-speed auto behaved. I loved the rest of the car, so I took it to the dealer and they felt nothing was wrong with it.

          Then there is our Fit Sport, which causes me to “re-learn” the transmission behavior every time I get into it. It’s very difficult to drive smoothly especially from a dead stop, and because of the small motor (which provides amazing fuel economy) the transmission has to downshift a lot. But I can easily forgive that.

          I compare all of this to our daughter’s 06 Corolla. I laugh when I see all the hate this car gets these days, often due to its 4-speed auto. I recently took our Fit to her college, to swap it out for the Corolla which needed new brakes. It’s nearly a two hour drive each way.

          The Fit is newer (09) and by all rights, should be the car I’d prefer to drive. However, when I got into the Corolla, which is decidedly more plush, I was much happier. But a lot of this has to do with the behavior of the 4-speed auto which, in my opinion, is simply in the right gear at the right time. I don’t have to think about what the Corolla is doing in the same way the Fit’s bizarre behavior leaves me questioning why it was designed/programmed to perform as it does.

          Furthermore, the Corolla, with its 4-speed auto, feels like it could go 300K with no issues. I don’t feel the same about the Fit, and truly didn’t feel this way about my Camry’s 5 speed.

          No, I don’t want to run the ‘Ring in the Corolla. Or the Fit. Or the Camry. But short of that (non existent) opportunity, give me a 4-speed. I think they are better.

          One last thing, part of the reason I thought I wanted those 5 and 6-speed transmissions, is because I thought they would provide a deeper overdrive in the highest gear, like a “super overdrive” that would drop the top gear cruising revs lower and allow for better fuel economy.

          However, it appears the higher number of ratios has been used to put the engine closer to its peak while going through the gears. As others have said, this leaves the transmission acting more and more like a CVT in the process. So the overall ratio spread has changed and the final drive has been relatively unchanged. I realize you can’t drop the cruising revs too low, especially with smaller engines that have less torque, but there are gains to be had.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            I wouldn’t complain as those are bottom of the rung cars with barely enough power/torque not to call them 100 horsepower weaklings.

          • 0 avatar
            cargogh

            I drove a Fit with a manual and thought it was so much fun. My friend inherited his father’s 09 Fit sport and which was not used (they had 2 child seats and 3 kids) He offered it to me to drive to my class reunion since I was and still am in beater mode. Of course I would. Gas mileage would be 1/3 better and I liked it. Wrong. Still grateful I drove it, but it was equipped with an automatic. Never mastered the paddles, but tried very little. It felt like it had a 4X8 sheet of plywood mounted vertically/perpendicularly across the roof after 45 mph. That transmission ruined it.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          The earliest electronically controlled automatics are arguably simpler than the hydraulically controlled ones, no throttle valves or governor needed, less complicated valve body, electronically tunable to each application. A 4L60E or 4L80E is just as strong and simple to repair as the 400/350 on which they are based.

          I’m sure it has gotten more complex from there, as everything is more complex and less repairable a book could be written about all the reasons why that is.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          “The beefier 3 speeds across the brands like Th-400, C6, 727 etc could handle crazy horsepower levels that would destroy 99% of modern car transmissions.”

          Obviously, those are all legendary transmissions, and all are used for heavy applications still and are quite sturdy. However, to say that modern multi-speed transmissions aren’t designed like that, when they need to be, isn’t true. Obviously, every car doesn’t need massive torque capacity, and so not every car does. It would be a waste of time to put a high capacity transmission in a Corolla-type vehicle.

          For reference, the higher capacity US-spec 6-speed VW/Audi transmission for Touareg/Q7/Cayenne made by Aisin (09D) can handle 553 ft-lbs (750 Nm) of torque. The 8-speed Aisin (0C8) for the same vehicles can do up to 758 ft-lbs (1000 Nm) because it needs to handle the 6.0L V12 diesel available in Europe. These are both made by Aisin and are likely very similar to what’s used in a Lexus LS.

          www dot novak-adapt dot com/knowledge/th400 dot htm

          The TH-400 had a max torque rating of 450 ft-lbs.

          www dot ckperformance dot com/resources/fordc6transmissions dot html

          A “competition-hardened” C6 can do 550 hp and 500 ft-lbs, which implies a non-hardened one can’t do that much.

          www dot fbperformance dot com/ViewTransmission/?TransmissionID=32

          Here’s a competition-prepared 727 that can do 500 hp and 450 ft-lbs, so unprepared will do less.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      There is little downside to reliability I think, it is just more planetary gearsets, if they have the space to put them in a trans with the appropriate strength and clutch material.

      Those old TH400 were waaaay overbuilt in most applications, that was the source of much reliability. When GM made lighter, smaller, more efficient models in the 80s (i.e. TH200C) they were not nearly as reliable.

      Today they can’t make a trans overbuilt like that, too expensive to sell a competitive car like that, so they are relying on engineering advances and precision manufacturing to make a reliable trans.

      There are more considerations like emissions and getting the best they can for EPA MPGs, sometimes drive-ability has to suffer…maybe that is more the source of your issues.

      My old Lexus with 4 speed auto does shift great though.

  • avatar
    Onus

    I like how you say ford can’t make up its mind. They did in house design the 6r140. Then again heavy duty transmissions was always something they did very well. From the c6, the e4od/4r100, the 5r110w.

    I am surprised they bought the zf 6 unit for rwd drive applications. They had a good history of light rwd models also. Not that i have anything wrong with the zf design.

    I’m sad to see Chrysler stop designing transmissions but it is probably for the better. In fact the zf designs built in Chrysler plants are modified by Chrysler. Weather that is a good thing, who knows.

    I have a feeling Chrysler is going to be building transmissions and those based of the zf designs for quite sometime.

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    “As a footnote in Volvo’s press release about their new four-cylinder engine family is buried one line “Volvo will also introduce a new 8-speed automatic gearbox that contributes to a refined drive and excellent fuel economy.” I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts the new slushbox is the same 8-speed unit that’s in the RX F-Sport I’m driving this week.”

    You owe me some money then. ZF makes a number of 8-speed models with different max torque specs. The 8-speed slushbox in an AMG is not the same one that’s in the A4.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Well first off ZF does not make an 8-speed transaxle, you are probably thinking of their new 9-speed transaxle that Chrysler and Land Rover will be using. Second there is no such thing as an 8-speed in an AMG product because Mercedes currently tops out at 7-speeds like Jatco. Yes there are a few different ZF 8-speed transmission models, but aside from the torque rating they are largely the same. The design is common but parts are swapped out to handle more torque. Even so, the same unit is used in the Chrysler 300, BMW 3/5/7, Jaguar XF/XJ, and a few other vehicles.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    No – lots of speeds doesn’t mean your transmission will feel like a CVT. The problems of CVTs have to do with three major factors.

    1) How fast it can change ratios. Yes it varies continously but it does not go into ANY GEAR instantly. IT actually takes a long time to change gears from say high to low. (The so called rubber band effect).

    2) The overall ‘spread’ between low to high.

    3) The inability to handle high torque engines.

    These three factors combine to make most CVTs crap to drive – to be quiet honest.

    The best driving automatics have very high torque engines. What this means is that no matter if its in the ‘wrong’ gear – you car will still accelerate when you press on the gas pedal. This is what you want really a linear response – where more gas = more speed.

    Think of it like riding a bike. If you are VERY strong you can accelerate even in 10th gear. That’s what a high torque engine does for you.

    A high gear spread enables alot of torque multiplication down low – which makes your car accelerate faster – provided you are in the low gear and very good gas mileage provided you are in the high end of the spread.

    What you end up with regarding most CVTs is transmissions with tall gearing that are reluctant to switch to lower gears. Because its continuously variable it can find the ‘perfect’ gear for cruising gas mileage wise.

    But from a drivers standpoint they suck – compared to a high torque engine and a traditional automatic. Convential automatics have improved their gear spread, gear change speed, and torque handling such that they are quite competitive with manuals and DSGs. The major thing they really need to be enjoyable is an engine with a good amount of torque.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard

      The best CVT out there is in the Lexus GS450h. Plenty of torque (electric motor) and software, designed in, manual downshifts. 5.6 sec. 0 to 60, easy 30mpg. Totally un discovered at least in this country.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    The ZF 01M that was in my VW Jetta was a piece of junk. I should know, as I owned several of them during the year I owned the car.

    I blame VW for a) picking a bad design and b) not engineering a drop-in replacement that lasted more than 60k miles after the problems with the 01M became known.

    I blame ZF for designing a transmission that couldn’t last, and couldn’t be repaired/rebuilt.

    Sour grapes? Yes! Thousands of dollars worth of sour grapes. And I really wanted to be a VW fan. But there are two Toyotas in my driveway, and they’re far better tools for getting through the day – even if they’re a little bland and beige[0].

    [0] Seriously, one of them is a Sienna, and “sienna” is a color that is beige in the same way that “salmon” is color pink. Yes, my minivan is a shuttlecraft from The Neutral Planet! But, hey, it’s way better at getting me where I’m going than my Jetta ever was!

  • avatar
    jruhi4

    The Volvo press release touting “their” new 8-speed automatic also included yet another bit of Volvo / Toyota mechanical sharing, this one involving Toyota Group supplier member Denso: i-ART, an autonomous closed-loop diesel fuel injection control system for diesels. For more:

    http://kaizenfactor.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/dear-volvo-toyota-was-first-with-i-art/


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