Ford and GM finally consummate 9- and 10-speed joint development

  • 15-Apr-2013 12:17 EDT
ZF 9speed beauty shot1.jpg

The new GM-Ford 9-speed fwd automatic features clever packaging of its internal mechanism, including "nested" gearsets to help enable use in small fwd vehicles, according to engineers. Shown is ZF's benchmark 9-speed 9HP48.

They’ve made it official: GM and Ford will jointly develop new 9- and 10-speed automatic transmissions for use in the companies’ cars, crossovers, and trucks.

The long-anticipated April 15 announcement comes seven months after SAE Magazines broke the news of the pending MOU (memo of understanding) in the 26 September 2012 edition of the Powertrain & Energy digital magazine. The announcement, expected last October, was delayed due to negotiations over intellectual property, according to engineers familiar with the agreement.

The public announcement was accelerated by the 2013 SAE World Congress, April 16-18, and by the 2013 CTI Transmission Symposium in May, insiders told AEI. Craig Renneker, Ford Chief Engineer of Transmission and Driveline Component Engineering, is scheduled to speak on “collaborative transmission development” at the CTI event.

“We expect these new transmissions to raise the standard of technology, performance and quality for our customers while helping drive fuel economy improvements into both companies' future product portfolios,” said Jim Lanzon, GM Vice President of Global Transmission Engineering.

The Detroit arch rivals are once again cooperating on transmission technologies, building on their landmark 2002 agreement to jointly develop 6-speed (Ford 6F and GM 6T70/75) front-drive automatics. That deal, in which Ford and GM invested a combined $720 million, has produced 8 million units for nearly 30 vehicle applications worldwide since production began in 2006. By cooperating on the hardware design, engineering, testing, and validation, the automakers saved hundreds of millions vs. developing unique units independently. They also reduced risk and saved considerable time.

“We’ve already proven that Ford and GM transmission engineers work extremely well together,” said Joe Bakaj, Ford Vice President of Powertrain Engineering.

A typical all-new automatic transmission program costs $80-$90 million in ER&D, plus $250-$300 million for a plant, according to industry experts. Licensing a third-party design, such as the latest 8- and 9-speed automatics developed by Aisin and ZF, for example, can cost $30-$100 per unit, depending on details. GM and Ford “decided we wanted to avoid that kind of cost burden by joining forces like we’ve done so successfully on the 6-speed programs,” a ranking engineer explained.

The jointly developed GM and Ford step-type planetary transmissions include a 9-speed for front-drive applications (its base design is primarily by GM) and a 10-speed unit for rear-drive trucks and cars whose design DNA is essentially Ford. Jumping beyond eight gear ratios provides the wide ratio spreads vehicles will require to meet the stringent new U.S. and European fuel economy and CO2 regulations set for the 2017-2020 timeframe. The additional ratios also will help enable the trend toward engine downspeeding, another key to improving fuel efficiency.

Ford and GM are following ZF into 9-speed territory. The German transmission supplier's pioneering 9HP family will debut in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee and 2014 Range Rover. AEI was the first North American publication to see and drive the 9HP prototype [November 1, 2011 issue p. 32].

Development of the GM-Ford 9- and 10-speed units is underway, and component suppliers “have been quoting joint production volumes in the millions, for months,” according to vendor sources who asked to remain anonymous. As with the 6-speed units, each OEM will manufacture its own transmissions in its own plants with many common components, and differentiate them through software controls.

“The goal is to keep hardware identical in the Ford and GM transmissions. This will maximize parts commonality and give both companies economy of scale,” said Renneker. SOP timing, vehicle applications, and technical details are still to come. Suppliers expect the 9-speed unit to debut in 2016.

Engineering sources explained that despite the added complexity of additional gearsets and clutches, the 9- and 10-speed planetary designs still trump CVTs due to their superior input-torque-handling capabilities. Comparable CVTs would have at least a $100 cost disadvantage compared with the step-type gearboxes given similar volumes, according to supplier experts.

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