Ford, GM co-design trannies
DETROIT -- General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are jointly designing nine- and 10-speed automatic transmissions for broad use across their vehicle lineups in a bid to boost fuel economy.
GM is leading the design of a nine-speed gearbox for use in front-wheel-drive vehicles, said three people familiar with the companies' plans.
Ford is taking the lead on a 10-speed transmission, which would be used in rear-wheel-drive vehicles such as pickups, SUVs and performance cars, the sources said.
The companies began working on the transmission program early this year, one source said. They still are in the design phase and likely won't be ready for production before 2015, one source said.
A GM spokesman confirmed that the two companies "are in discussions" and have signed a memorandum of understanding "to jointly develop a variety of all-new, fuel-efficient transmissions." He would not discuss details and said the companies "hope to announce a definitive agreement soon."
A Ford spokesman said: "We always talk to other companies, including GM." He declined to elaborate.
The New York Times reported that Ford and GM plan to jointly develop automatics and are considering a manufacturing alliance.
GM and Ford are playing catchup as other automakers hit the market with gearboxes ranging from seven to nine speeds.
Chrysler, via a joint venture with ZF Friedrichshafen, offers an eight-speed automatic on its 300 sedan and the 2013 Ram pickup. In 2013 Chrysler will offer a ZF-built nine-speed fwd transmission for small and mid-sized vehicles.
Audi, BMW and Lexus all offer eight-speeds, while Mercedes-Benz offers a seven-speed.
Mike Omotoso, powertrain analyst for LMC Automotive, says the main benefits of adding more gears are fuel economy and refinement.
"The engine has to do less work, so they aren't revving as much as they used to with fewer forward gears," he said.
The partnership extends a transmission pact that dates to 2002, when Ford and GM agreed to work together on a family of six-speed automatics for fwd vehicles. The transmissions, including the Ford 6F-35 and GM 6T70, have been installed in millions of vehicles, including the Ford Fusion and Escape and the Chevrolet Malibu.
Ford and GM each appear to be altering plans for eight-speed transmissions with an eye toward the greater savings that could come from more gears, one of the sources said.
In June 2011, Ford announced plans for its own eight-speed automatic, but the company did not specify an application. The company has said little about the transmission since then. Some news outlets reported it was designed for the F-150 pickup.
One of the sources with knowledge of its plans says Ford scrapped a homegrown eight-speed transmission program within the past year, before it began working with GM.
Last year, GM CEO Dan Akerson said that GM would spend $204 million to equip its Toledo, Ohio, powertrain plant to build a homegrown eight-speed gearbox. He wouldn't say what vehicles it would go into or when it would reach production.
Two sources said that that transmission is on track for a mid-2014 launch and probably would go into at least one Cadillac, likely the CTS sedan, and eventually GM's pickups and SUVs. One of the sources said that GM has reduced the volume projections for the eight-speed.
The person said: "That rear-drive eight-speed is likely to be very, very low volume now."
You can reach Mike Colias at email@example.com.