DETROIT - Just before Christmas, two engineers got together to drive a vehicle around a Dearborn, Mich., test track to check out a transmission they have been working on.
Nothing unusual about that.
But the two happened to be Dave Szczupak, vice president of Ford Motor Co.'s worldwide powertrain operations, and Tom Stephens, his counterpart at General Motors.
Seeing these two men in the same vehicle, chatting about shift points and torque curves, would have been unthinkable before October 2002. That is when GM and Ford announced plans to create a six-speed automatic transmission.
The transmission collaboration is a first between the rival automakers. The goal: Develop the gearbox faster and for less money than if the companies built transmissions separately. Ford and GM had started down that road. The automakers say they need the new transmission to improve the performance and
fuel economy of their front-wheel-drive vehicles.
Szczupak and Stephens say their engineers are ahead of schedule. It was the first working prototype of the new gearbox - installed in a Pontiac Aztek - that brought the two together at the test track in December.
"There are companies selling automatics in production now that wouldn't feel as good as that first transmission out of the box," Stephens says.
Szczupak was happy with the test, too. "When we set up the alliance, we said we would have a steering committee that would meet quarterly to resolve issues that the teams couldn't resolve. Tom and I have had nothing to do."
The transmission is scheduled for production for 2006 model year vehicles for both automakers.