By on April 23, 2018

Hydra-Matic 9T50 General Motors

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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50 Comments on “Not Interested: Ford Passes on General Motors’ Nine-speed Transmission...”


  • avatar
    TR4

    In other news, the Law of Diminishing Returns remains in effect.

    • 0 avatar
      Yankee

      Cue Spinal Tap: “…but this one goes to 11!”

      I’m reminded of the blade wars the shaving industry was going through a few decades ago to see who could stuff the most blades into a plastic razor. A cheap twin blade still works great for me… and the 4-speed auto in my 2006 xB still works great at 153K and still gets me a consistent 30 mpg in mixed driving while being used like a covered pickup truck.

    • 0 avatar
      jthorner

      Bingo. How is it that so many people neglect the Law of Diminishing Returns?

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    And GM’s 10-speed transmission has become an unmitigated disaster*.

    You will all understand the why and the extent soon (if you don’t already know).

    *Credible insider provided information.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      Really? It got raves in the C/D Camaro review I read. Looking forward to hearing more – in a rubber necking car wreck sort of way.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      How have they ruined it? It has been very nice in the F150. There has been a recall, but it was for a clip that may have not been installed correctly. It doesn’t effect the driveability of the transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Time will tell but it has got very good reviews in everything it’s been installed in so far including the Camaro.

      The only unmitigated disaster in the rubbish FCA has been pumping out the past umpteen years including the terrible 9 speed auto, the lackluster unperforming and noisy 2.4 engines and all the Fiat crap too. Ironically literally ever recent Jeep owner I have spoke to has regretted buying them once the warranty runs out. No surprise there.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “The only unmitigated disaster in the rubbish FCA has been pumping out the past umpteen years including the terrible 9 speed auto,”

        When put behind a V8 like the 5.7L HEMI that has enough twist and torque to do it justice, it is actually an excellent transmission.

        Putting it behind the V6 does make it act like a “hunt and peck” transmission, busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger.

      • 0 avatar
        Ce he sin

        Strictly speaking, the 9 speed isn’t actually by FCA – it’s a ZF unit built under licence – and describing it as “terrible” is rather overstating the case. The programming wasn’t right when they first started to use it but it’s been improved. Land Rover and Honda use it as well, seemingly without the issues that earlier Jeeps had.

      • 0 avatar
        Firestorm 500

        That ZF 9 speed in the Cherokee, and all the horror stories from the owners you can see online, is a major reason why I bought a Escape Titanium 2.0T 4WD last month.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      All things being equal, more parts and/or more components and/or more complexity = decreased reliability.

      “With in-car electronics and advanced transmissions proliferating across more vehicle models, the industry overall is not seeing improved reliability…ttransmissions continue to be problematic.”

      https://ihsmarkit.com/research-analysis/consumer-reports-2016-auto-reliability-survey-highlights-transmission-infotainment-technology-problems.html

      • 0 avatar
        anomaly149

        A 2016 article and an adage about parts = complexity = worse reliability is “insider information”?

        Color me unconvinced that there’s mystery impeding doom on a follow-on application of an F-150 high-runner part.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Wow…strong words from Ford who has already had to recall their 10-Speed that they designed.

    Once again, Ford showing they cannot make a good decision for the life of em.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Your actually incorrect about the Malibu gaining 1 MPG with the 2.0T when using the 8 speed vs the 9 speed.

    The actual MPG stayed the same for 2017 compared to 2016 at 22/33. Now for 2018 the 2.0T with 9 speed actually loses 1 MPG on the highway so the figures are 22/32 for the Malibu Premier.

    Note to the LaCrosse also lost 1 highway MPG and combined going from the 2017 3.6/8 speed to the 2018 3.6 9 speed in FWD trims. Oddly it stayed the same for AWD models at 20/29.

    One thing I can say about the new 9 speed besides smoother and better shifts is that it improves 0-60 times notably on all these switchovers. The LaCrosse, Malibu and Envision are all quicker with the new transmission versus the old 6 and 8 speed units so something was gained if not outright MPG.

    Another thing to consider is the EPA’s weird new way of rating certain vehicles. They lowered the stats for more aggressive real world driving back in 2008 and seemed to have done so several other times on certain models for 2017 and 2018. A perfect scenario is the 2017 Malibu 2.0T Premier that was tested by C&D. It’s 0-60 times dropped from 6.2 to 5.7 seconds. It’s real world MPG also showed over 37 MPG on the highway so the drop for 2018 would seem to be silly for that setup.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The driveability and fuel economy benefits of these hugely complex transmissions are highly suspect, disproportional to their steep cost and risk. Over-engineered, they are likely to be significantly less reliable and impose staggering after warranty repair expense on owners. Estimated 9-speed rebuild cost is north of $10,000, more than most middle aged cars’ market value and will likely result in early vehicle scrappage.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      The idea of rebuilding transmissions is going the way of the the repair of the horse & buggy industry.

      Transmissions are now so ridiculous, in the sense that more more complexity is being added to eek out incremental gains in fuel economy (e.g. going from an 8-speed to a 9-speed or 10-speed to attempt to increase fuel economy by 0.8%), that they are plug and play components, to be tossed when they go bad prematurely, and replaced with new units (increasingly Hecho En China or Thailand or Romania).

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Not so much “tossed” as sent to a dedicated facility for refurbishing and put back into the “remanufactured” pipeline.

      • 0 avatar
        TwoBelugas

        I used to hand out at a Mopar car forum and when I brought up the fact that my then brand new LX car with the 8 Speed ZF doesn’t have a transmission fluid dipstick for checking the fluid level, the majority of the people there were adamant they don’t miss it, and that it’s a sealed unit and just let the mechanic take care of it. I literally thought they were being sarcastic up until the moment I realized they were totally serious.

        Not sure if that is the case with the 8-10 speed GM and Ford transmissions, but I traded that car in later on for my current Ram and the truck has the 6 speed with tranny fluid dipstick.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “The idea of rebuilding transmissions is going the way of the the repair of the horse & buggy industry.”

        Not true! Many automotive Vo-Tech schools do just that, rebuild all sorts of auto parts as part of the education experience, and then wholesale the rebuilt parts to mass marketers.

        You can get a rebuilt transmission or rebuilt engine, with 90 day warranty for ~1/3 of the cost of a new one. Ditto with alternators, waterpumps, fan clutches, ECM, ECU, diode boards, radiators, PS pumps, fan motors, etc etc etc.

        Huge aftermarket “rebuilts” industry.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        You’d think hybrids would look better in the light of this sort of thing. Pay up front or pay forever and later.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Citation needed for “hugely complex.”

      I don’t see the addition of 1-2 planetary gear sets as making a transmission “hugely complex.”

      Yes, it’s becoming less common for Joe Transmission Mechanic to rebuild them, but that’s because he can’t compete on cost with a dedicated facility. Instead, his job is to remove and replace with a transmission already rebuilt by the people who can do it fastest and cheapest.

    • 0 avatar
      Ce he sin

      How hugely complicated do you think an eight speed automatic actually is? It’s got four gearsets, just like a six speed, and another couple of friction elements. It’s not a huge leap into the unknown. A ten speed? Same applies, still only four gearsets.
      Trucks (proper trucks, not pickups) have 10,12,14 or more speeds. They don’t literally have that number of gears as they mix and match the output of three gearboxes, but nonetheless they’re more complex than anything you’ll find in a car, which won’t prevent them outliving anything you’ll find in a car several times over…

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    “almost imperceptible upshifts for excellent refinement,”
    Meanwhile CVTs are engineered with perceptible fake shifts.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Pale Ghost: “almost imperceptible upshifts for excellent refinement,”
      Meanwhile CVTs are engineered with perceptible fake shifts.”

      Excellent observation.

      Behold the power of marketing over people who view themselves as being totally rational.

  • avatar
    pdog_phatpat

    Can say I blame Ford, who wants to be saddled with GM crap?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Fewer gears is going to mean poorer performance for smaller-engined cars and trucks. Five gears is not enough for my one 4-cyl vehicle while a 9-speed has the other, heavier, vehicle just walk away from it in almost every driving situation.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    There are benefits to being well behind the curve of automotive powertrain trends. I’m perfectly happy with the response and ratios of our 6 speed automatic. The 5 speed? Well, that’s not a sporty vehicle and I’m pretty sure it is immune from QA/QC issues at this point.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Ford PowerShift Transmission Settlement

    According to court documents, there are 110 legal actions against Ford in California and “57 related federal actions.”

  • avatar

    I learned that for some cars, a re program for the transmission makes a great difference. Back in the day, you’d get a “shift kit” which was a collection of springs and ball bearings. Install and the THM 350 would suddenly shift like your stoned older cousin with the real 442.

    I got the CTS trans re programmed…..and changing the shift points from the programmed in “max mileage on a roller” to ” shift near torque peaks” was a game changer….I can only imagine that other cars would equally benefit.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve spent too much time in GM forums. I plan to escape soon, but a constant theme, be it Vette, Caddy, or truck, is to “get a tune”. So much so, that GM is working on making it harder to do. They tune for mileage on rollers, first, then no driveline shock, (warranty claims) second. I found happiness in a tune that changed the shift points from Roller to Real World but left the Torque Management. The whole Journey is one that normal folks would never take-the caddy had a “just kidding” downshift for 40-60 passes that made noise but did nothing…the Tune downshifted one gear but let the motor pull, which is exactly what you’d do with a manual. I know a Vette shop that does very well just for re flashing the shift points and torque management percentages. There is a divergence between what works on the road and what works for regulators…..

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      As mentioned, I have the inside scoop from a highly credible source that GM has a major design defect (NOT production defect) inherent to its two newest transmissions.

      This means that there’s no “fix” for it; it has to be redesigned and then built off the redesign to alleviate the issue.

      See any of the GM forums, including the CT6 (Caddy) or Corvette (C7) forums for much of the talk that speaks to the issues being suffered en masse by GM’s beta-testers (aka buying/leasing public).

      • 0 avatar

        Understood, which is why I’m leaving GM for my next ride…my 60k on my CTS (2 years of use) has been instructive. The problem with GM is that it is always 90% there…not done, just mostly done. I loved the ATS-V I recently drove, but it was a manual, and the V cars probably have a “boss” to make it right, not just the committee signs off of most of GM. The ATS-V is nice but overpriced…I can’t see 50k for an ATS even if the motor and chassis are pure sex…the rest of the car is an ATS, and I can tune a C class to the same HP for the same money….and have a Benz….

      • 0 avatar
        Firestorm 500

        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.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “Ford is wise not to go with a GM automatic. ”

      Ford should go into partnership with Toyota/Lexus and use the excellent automatic transmission used in the LS460.

      I would like to see that tranny in the Tundra behind that magnificent all-aluminum, 32-valve, DOHC 5.7L V8.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Have to disagree. FCA’s 9-speed is one of the best automatics I’ve ever used, admittedly followed closely by the Fiat 500’s six-speed auto. With such low gearing for first and second gears, the things move out in a very spritely manner and accelerate quickly. More gears means smoother upshifts and better than expected performance for a 1.6L or 2.5L engine. They just feel like they have more power than the 101 or 165 horses they’re rated at. And when compared to my 175 horse Windsor-block 302 in my ’73 Gran Torino… well, they feel like I dropped a 351 Win under the hood instead. (Which is exactly what I did to that Gran T.)

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      5, 6, 8 or 10, doesn’t matter as long as it is not a CVT.

      Yet CVT trannies across the passenger class vehicles is a given. The CVT was a dog when it was first used in the DAF cars and it continues to suck no matter where else it is being used.

      But the bottom line is that CVTs are cheaper to make, easier to control through electronics, and offer the best possible FE/mpg because engine speed is kept at the ideal rotational speed for FE and torque.

      • 0 avatar

        For me, a CVT is a No Sale device. I wonder for what percentage of folks that is true….

      • 0 avatar
        TR4

        CVTs are well accepted in snowmobiles.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        The early CVTs had the problem of simply not able to handle the torque of larger (or turbocharged) engines. This seems to have improved significantly but they’re still somewhat sensitive (understatement) to ‘lively’ driving habits.

        Oh, they have definite advantages if you’re willing to be more conservative behind the wheel (that doesn’t mean slow, just means not aggressive.) I can easily see how “infinite” gearing can keep the engine at the best power/economy speed for conditions. This is, after all, what those 8-10-speed mechanical transmissions are doing by making the gearshifts at shorter ratios; their advantage is that with dual-clutch technologies, they lock into gear more securely and can handle higher torque and horsepower than a CVT… for now. A ten-speed auto transmission isn’t that different from a ten-speed bicycle’s gearing; it helps the rider chose the best gear for their strength and road conditions.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        We have two CVTs in the family, my car, which has a dual motor electrified CVT that is typically installed in Toyota and Ford hybrids, and my daughter’s car, which is a Jeep Patriot equipped with an Aisin (I think) CVT. Both work fine, and are smoother than a conventional automatic, particularly the hybrid. I have driven Toyota and Nissans equipped with CVTs, and I didn’t care for those, but it was more the way the engine and transmission were programmed than the transmission itself. Both of those cars respond to a small accelerator press with a big increase in engine speed, bringing the engine up to 4000 rpm when all I wanted was a little more throttle opening and maybe a few more revs. I don’t think that’s inherently the transmission’s fault, our Jeep does not behave that way, if you want a lot of revs, you need a vigorous press of the pedal, which I think is the way the car should behave.

        If I’m asking the car to accelerate, I think the CVT’s response of bringing the the engine up to speed and varying the transmission makes much more sense than a geared transmission’s behavior of having the engine speed vary. if you’re trying to accelerate, why would you want the engine speed to decrease?

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I agree with you. I recently had the opportunity to rent a 2018 Mustang which was equipped with 9 or 10 speed automatic. (I did put it to good use, took it to an SCCA Track Night) It seemed like it was always shifting. My wife has an Explorer with a six speed automatic, I think that is the correct number of gears, it’s not shifting so often.


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