Not Interested: Ford Passes on General Motors' Nine-speed Transmission

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
not interested ford passes on general motors nine speed transmission

Way back in 2013, General Motors and the Ford Motor Co. signed an agreement to collaborate on transmissions. The deal stipulated that GM would get access to Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission, intended for rear-drive applications, if the Blue Oval could have the Hydra-Matic 9T50 nine-speed under development by The General for front-drive models — and everyone would save some money.

However, things didn’t play out as intended. Ford is now saying the nine-speed auto doesn’t provide enough of a fuel economy improvement to justify the added cost and weight of an extra gear. It won’t be using it, at least not in its current form. Instead, Ford engineers have decided to use a trio of transmissions with fewer gears for front-wheel-drive units.

General Motors has defended the new Hydra-Matic by saying it was engineered with refinement in mind — a point reiterated by company spokesman Tom Read. “Smaller steps between gears in a nine vs. an eight speed enable smoother shifts for customers,” Read told Automotive News.

That premium feel was something General Motors tried to impress upon journalists since the nine-speed’s introduction in 2016. More ratios are able to match the engine with an appropriate forward gear, optimizing operation through a wider spread — 7.6:1 vs 6.0:1 on the popular six speed.

“The smaller steps between the gears, compared to the eight speed, enable smooth, almost imperceptible upshifts for excellent refinement,” Dan Nicholson, GM’s vice president for global propulsion systems, said when the 2017 Malibu was launched. “No matter the engine torque or vehicle speed, the 9T50 is always in the perfect gear.”

For the most part, nobody has balked at this claim. The unit appears to perform amicably in most applications, gaining praise for its refinement. But the issue of economy is a little less black and white. The Malibu only gained an additional 1 mpg over the old eight-speed automatic on the highway. Overall, GM transmission engineering director Chris Meagher estimated the 9T50 would improve fuel economy by about 2 percent across Chevrolet’s lineup.

However, the Chinese-built Buick Envision swapped its six-speed automatic for the 9T50 for the 2019 model year and actually lost 1 mpg on the highway. This gives some credence to Ford’s claim that the unit might not be ideal for all applications, especially since a large portion of its efficiency strategy focuses on weight savings. “The small efficiency benefit did not justify the added weight and cost of an extra clutch and gear,” explained Ford spokeman Mike Levine.

The Blue Oval had already opted out of implementing the gearbox before it started cropping up in General Motors’ fleet. It has decided to adapt the six-speed auto from the 2002 GM alliance for its high-horsepower FWD applications (Ford Edge ST, Lincoln Nautilus V6, etc.). That unit will have eight gears in total. Another eight-speed gearbox, based off of GM’s nine-speed, will go into mainstream models in order to bolster economy without the added weight of an extra planetary set.

There is also a third eight-speed automatic intended for smaller vehicles that generate less torque. The numbers aren’t yet in for Ford’s new transmission, but the automaker says it’s confident it will be able to match the efficiency of GM’s nine-speed Hydra-Matic.

[Image: General Motors]

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16 of 50 comments
  • GS 455 GS 455 on Apr 23, 2018

    Ford is wise not to go with a GM automatic. Transmission problems are a hot topic at Corvette and Cadillac CT6 forums. Erratic and hard shifts are reported for both cars and while a flush seems to help the Corvette automatic temporarily, Cadillac dealers have been told by GM there is no fix for the CT6. If GM can't put a bullet proof, smooth shifting tranny in it's two flagships in 2018 then I wouldn't trust any of their transmissions.

    • See 4 previous
    • Firestorm 500 Firestorm 500 on Apr 24, 2018

      @DeadWeight GM moves at glacial speed at best. Look how long it took them to finally discontinue the flawed Northstar. Even though they knew without a doubt it had problems from the get-go.

  • Garrett Garrett on Apr 23, 2018

    Frankly, I think six speeds should be the absolute maximum for an automatic, with five being okay in most applications. Not really loving my eight speed, but at least sport mode seems to disregard 8th gear and isn’t too horrible at being in the right gear when I need it.

    • See 8 previous
    • FormerFF FormerFF on Apr 24, 2018

      @TR4 My wife isn't going to go for that.

  • 28-Cars-Later Kudos to the Mazda team on the attractive front end, though the lack of front bumper is still detention after class. Rest of it is also visually appealing, its shocking me how good this looks and how bad Honda (and to an extent Toyota's) styling is in comparison.
  • Slyons My guess is they keep the 2.0 liter they have now with minor tweaks, and shoehorn in the 48V mild hybrid system that just debuted in the CX-90. Should allow for all the regular fun of wringing out the 4 cyl and bump the fuel mileage up at least a couple points. I don't think we'll see a major evolution of the drivetrain until the next next model (NF?).
  • 28-Cars-Later " as long as internal-combustion engines exist?"So... forever until society collapses, rebuilds, and then the Hunger Games begin?
  • Jeff S It would be a neat project but the 6k should include the parts car.
  • Kcflyer Why oh why does every manufacturer slop the roof so much on vehicles that are supposed to be utilitarian? Especially a three row people mover. Let the rear roof square off like an old volvo wagon for cripes sake! And get off my lawn. And don't give me the mpg noise. I'd happily give back a couple mpg for some utility in a "utility" vehicle.