DETROIT - German transmission maker ZF Group expects its new electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission to replace today's five-speed automatic as the industry standard.
Jim Orchard, CEO of ZF Group North American Operations, called the 6 HP 26 transmission the 'cornerstone of a new range of transmissions targeted to rear-wheel-drive vehicles.'
Orchard said it should replace the five-speed in five to 10 years. ZF has made five-speed transmissions since 1990. The five-speed transmissions represent 80 percent of ZF's automatic transmission production for passenger cars.
Orchard said the new six-speed is available for European production and could be exported almost immediately to the United States. He declined to identify specific vehicle programs using the transmission other than to say it would first appear in 'premium vehicles.'
Compared with the five-speed transmission, the six-speed is 13 percent lighter, 5 to 7 percent more fuel efficient, quieter and can accelerate 2 to 5 percent quicker.
It is designed for rear-wheel-drive vehicles with torque up to 444 pounds-feet. Also planned, however, are six-speed ranges for other applications, including all-wheel drive, with torque up to 555 pounds-feet.
The new transmission's electronic system is constantly fed data on the transmission status, operating condition, operator behavior and operator requests. It can adjust to special conditions such as city traffic or loading conditions. The system also can react to spontaneous driver actions or sudden changes in the driving environment.
Orchard also said ZF is set to launch production of its continuously variable transmission in fall 2001 at ZF Batavia LLC, its joint venture with Ford Motor Co. in Batavia, Ohio.
ZF and Ford joined forces in 1998 to produce up to 1 million of the CVT automatics annually for Ford and other automakers' vehicles by 2005.
Orchard said in addition to Ford, Fiat will use CVTs, and ZF is 'in discussions with two other clients.'
The CVT increases fuel economy 10 to 15 percent compared with a four-speed automatic transmission and creates smoother acceleration because it is perceived as 'shiftless.'