Rivals General Motors and Ford have agreed to cooperate on multispeed
transmissions that boost fuel efficiency.
The goal is to engineer the next generation of this expensive technology, on which Chrysler beat them to the market.
GM and Ford have done some preliminary work covertly, but now they are willing to take it public.
"Engineering teams from GM and Ford have already started initial design work on these new transmissions," said Jim Lanzon, GM's head of global transmission engineering.
They expect to develop nine-speed transmissions for front-wheel-drive cars and crossovers and 10-speed transmissions for rear-drive trucks. The work will yield millions of transmissions for vehicles around the world.
"Scale is critical in the transmission world," said Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Automotive Consulting.
The work will proceed in Dearborn, Mich., and Pontiac, Mich. The proximity will enable engineers to meet as necessary.
Transmissions are elaborate, expensive and necessary, but sharing the basic design does not hurt the DNA of any given brand, GM spokesman Dan Flores said.
Each automaker will take the shared technology and further tune each transmission for the size and type of vehicle that will use it, Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer said. "You can't remove a transmission from a GM and put it into a Ford."
Mark Reuss, GM's North America president, has described it as getting two transmissions for the price of one.
Production will be done in each company's plants, using common parts to further reduce cost.
"The goal is to keep hardware identical in the Ford and GM transmissions," said Craig Renneker, Ford's chief transmission engineer. "However, we will each use our own control software to ensure that each transmission is carefully matched to the individual, brand-specific vehicle DNA for each company."
It could be three years before the first vehicles with the transmissions are on the market.
They are expected to improve fuel efficiency by 5 percent from the powertrains they replace. Automakers are working to meet new regulations in 2016 that require their new vehicle fleets to average 35.5 miles per gallon, compared with about 27.3 mpg now. That requirement climbs to 54.5 mpg in 2025.
GM and Ford hope to trump Chrysler, which is introducing eight- and nine-speed transmissions _ but Chrysler has a significant head start.
Chrysler worked with transmission supplier ZF on an eight-speed for rear-drive cars that debuted in 2011 and is now in Ram pickups and large SUVs, Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said.
A nine-speed transmission for front-drive vehicles will debut this fall in the Jeep Cherokee and will find its way into cars such as the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart, as well as next-generation minivans.
"Chrysler's ability to get eight- and nine-speeds into vehicles early gives them a lot more breathing room to meet fuel economy standards," said Robinet of IHS.
Ford and GM have worked together on six-speed transmissions. That collaboration yielded more than 8 million transmissions globally. "We've already proven that Ford and GM transmission engineers work extremely well together," said Joe Bakaj, Ford's head of powertrain engineering.
Some automakers are turning to suppliers for automatic transmission design and, occasionally, production.
"Outsourcing is becoming a viable alternative," Robinet said. "Ford and GM have found a middle ground where they keep their capabilities internal but still get the economies of scale to cut cost."
(c)2013 Detroit Free Press
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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