ZF CEO: 9 Speeds Is Enough

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

Wondering when the automatic gearbox arms race will end? 8 speeds? 9 speeds? Even 10 speed gearboxes have been thrown out as grist for the automotive rumor mill, but one exec apparently has the answer.

The CEO of ZF transmissions said that 9 speed gearboxes will be the zenith of transmissions – anything more will be too complex and heavy to produce any efficiency gains.

Stefan Sommer, ZF’s grand fromage told Automotive News Europe that 9 speeds is the “natural limit” for gearboxes, and anything beyond that invokes the law of diminishing returns. Chrysler is expected to be the first to adopt a 9-speed automatic, but don’t look for anything beyond that, says AN

Earlier this year, Julio Caspari, president of ZF’s North American operations, hinted that a “Can-you-top-this?” race to add gears may be driven by marketing considerations rather than fuel economy.

That’s because there is only an 11 percent gap between the most-efficient transmissions today and a theoretically perfect gearbox

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  • MadHungarian MadHungarian on Nov 07, 2012

    I have a headache trying to figure out all these gear permutations. Think I'll go for a drive in my Corvair. With a Powerglide.

  • Olddavid Olddavid on Nov 08, 2012

    I like to think of myself as a gearhead. My default response is to fix it myself.I have changed Hudsonite - a whale oil emulsion that lubricated the cork clutch Hudsons in late 40's and 50's.Yet, modern electronic control and lockup boxes baffle me. And, seemingly, more than a few of the "experts" that claim to be able to repair them. I have recently had two different diagnoses on the same problem. Nine speeds? Make 5 work for 200k miles first, then go forward. I agree it seems to me more marketing ploy than a practical advantage.

  • Niky Niky on Nov 08, 2012

    7 or 8 speeds already act a lot like CVTs. 9 might be overkill. With an 8 speed gearbox, upshifts are imperceptible and downshifts can plant you in the right gear, right now. But I wonder if they're heading into the uncanny valley of gearboxes. If it smells like a CVT and tastes like a CVT... will it turn people off like a CVT? While these boxes are definitely not as slushy as CVTs from a roll, when you're pushing hard, the seamless acceleration and short steps in an eight speed box are nowhere near as dramatically satisfying as a five or six speed. And by dramatically satisfying, I mean less dramamine for the missus and less of that heady winding through the powerband for you.

  • Ccode81 Ccode81 on Nov 09, 2012

    I used to think 8 CD changer is superior over 6 . Not anymore. Who cares. EVs do not require transmission and that is the future of main stream.