Audi, BMW seek to match Lexus with 8-speed transmissions
Audi is testing vehicles equipped with an eight-speed transmission, a company source told Automotive News Europe.
The source declined to specify which vehicles will get the new feature, but analysts CSM Worldwide predict that three cars will go on sale with the technology in 2009: the A8 upper-premium sedan, the Q7 premium SUV and the forthcoming A7 four-door premium coupe.
ZF Friedrichshafen will supply the transmission, CSM said.
In 2010, BMW will add a ZF eight-speed transmission on both the 7 series upper-premium sedan and the X6 SUV-coupe crossover, a company source said.
“Once this technology becomes available in higher volumes, and will therefore be cheaper, it will filter down the model range,” he said.
ZF claims its eight-speed transmission improves fuel consumption by 14 percent compared with a standard five-speed automatic.
Nick Margetts, an auto analyst at JATO Dynamics in Cologne, Germany, agreed that eight-speed transmissions were an effective way of improving fuel economy.
“The eight-speed has longer gear ratios so it’s more fuel efficient,” Margetts said.
The European Commission plans to introduce tougher emission regulations for new cars sold in Europe. This means carmakers have to find increasingly innovative ways to improve fuel consumption.
“CO2 has become a huge issue in the automotive world, so carmakers will not want to be seen holding back this kind of technology,” said Chris Guile, a London-based powertrain analyst for CSM.
The three German premium automakers are trying to catch up with Lexus. Toyota’s premium brand launched the world’s first eight-speed transmission on its LS460 upper-premium sedan last January. Aisin Seiki of Japan supplies the technology.
In 2001, ZF introduced the world’s first six-speed automatic, which debuted on the BMW 7 series. In 2003, Mercedes-Benz developed in-house a seven-speed transmission for the S class. Lexus brought its eight-speed transmission to the market four years later.
Leopold Mikulic, head of passenger car engines and powertrains at Mercedes-Benz Cars, said that the company’s seven-speed could be extended to eight but that the impact on fuel efficiency would be “limited.”
“Nevertheless, we are analyzing whether this development would make sense,” Mikulic said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Thomas Wenzel, a spokesman for ZF, declined to confirm whether Audi and BMW would use the German supplier’s technology.
“We have a very good relationship with a number of automakers who already use our six-speed transmission,” Wenzel said. “Some of those could decide to use our eight-speed technology.”
Luca Ciferri contributed