How Many Gears Is Too Many? General Motors Says Nine Is Enough, Or Ten, Or Maybe More

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
how many gears is too many general motors says nine is enough or ten or maybe more

We moved past three on the tree. We’ve long since bid farewell to four on the floor. The ZF six-speed automatic transmission that helped to make the 2001 BMW 7 Series seem so forward-thinking at the dawn of the millennium was usurped by a seven-speed unit from Mercedes-Benz a couple of years later, and then by the Lexus LS’s eight-speed automatic in 2007.

Nine-speed automatics are all over the place: in the 2017 Acura MDX I’m driving this week, in numerous Fiat Chrysler Automobiles products, and in ten General Motors models by the end of 2017. Now the most popular line of vehicles in North America, the Ford F-Series, is arriving at dealers near you with ten-speed automatic transmissions.

But when is enough enough? How many gears is too many? Are there diminishing returns as the number of gears in an automatic transmission increases?

GM says nine is enough. Okay, ten is plenty if you insist. Ah, whatever, maybe more would be wonderful.

GM’s new nine-speed automatic first appears in the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu, then the diesel-powered 2017 Chevrolet Cruze, and then the already-revealed 2018 Chevrolet Equinox — all front-wheel-drive foundations. The ten-speed unit, with which GM and Ford also shared development, is intended for rear-wheel-drive applications.

Yet, when speaking with Wards Auto, GM’s executive director for transmission and electrification hardware engineering Chris Meagher said, “We don’t see the benefit of going higher than 10 forward speeds.”

But could more gears be possible? Acknowledging that the idea of nine and ten-speed automatics seemed unimaginable a decade ago, “You never really know for sure,” GM’s Meagher said.

While these seven, eight, nine, and now ten-speed automatics have certainly made their way into the public consciousness, Wards says six-speed automatics accounted for 55 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States in the 2016 model year.

That percentage could fall fast, however, as ten-speed automatics become common in the most popular vehicles in America: pickup trucks.

[Images: General Motors, Ford]

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Eggsalad Eggsalad on Dec 13, 2016

    Meanwhile, Toyota will still sell you a 4-speed automatic if you buy a Yaris hatchback. I hear it's pretty awful.

    • Russycle Russycle on Dec 13, 2016

      If it's the same 4-speed that soldiered on in the xB until it's demise, it's not that bad. But not as good as the 4-speed that was in my GrandAm. GM gets so much wrong, but when they get something right...damn! 'Course, that can take a decade or two of trial and error.

  • W126 W126 on Dec 13, 2016

    The new 10 speed auto developed in cooperation by Ford and Chevy is a beast of a transmission, it shifts super fast, and will be in the 2017 Camaro ZL1 and Ford Raptor, I can't wait to see what it will do if put into the Corvette, right now I would choose a manual Corvette, but if they put the super fast shifting 10-speed in it I would strongly consider the auto. This particular transmission is not just about fuel economy, which I'm sure Camaro ZL1 and Ford Raptor buyers care deeply about, it's about improving acceleration times to get people to buy these high performance vehicles.

  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro today's vehicles?
  • Ravenuer The Long Island Expressway.
  • Kwik_Shift A nice stretch of fairly remote road that would be great for test driving a car's potential, rally style, is Flinton Road off of Highway 41 in Ontario. Twists/turns/dips/rises. Just hope a deer doesn't jump out at you. Also Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Great scenery with lots of hills.