Fourteen months after announcing that it was ready to take orders for its newly developed seven-speed automatic, ZF is still waiting for its first buyer.
ZF announced at the 2003 IAA in Frankfurt that it had developed a seven-speed automatic transmission.
"We will decide to go into production only if we have commitment from customers," said Gerhard Wagner, group vice president of the car transmission division at ZF in Saarbrücken, Germany.
ZF group CEO Siegfried Goll referred to the seven-speed automatic merely as "a study" during a recent interview with Automotive News Europe.
Currently DaimlerChrysler is the only automaker offering a seven-speed automatic. It is successively putting this system, which it builds in-house, on most of its six- and eight-cylinder models.
ZF's automatic-transmission customers apparently think six speeds are enough.
Part of the problem is that moving from six to seven gears improves fuel economy by less than 1 percent. That is considerably less than the gain in moving from five speeds to six.
There is "no big advantage" to the seven-speed automatic ZF developed compared with its six-speed automatic, Wagner said.
While orders for ZF's seven-speed automatic have yet to materialize, its six-speed automatic sales continue to climb, with a projection of 900,000 units in 2006. This year, ZF expects to produce about 500,000 six-speed automatics, up from 250,000 in 2003, the company says.
That transmission was introduced in 2001 on the BMW 7 series. Today, six-speed automatic transmission variants are offered on a wide range of vehicles, including the Aston Martin DB9, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Land Rover Discovery and BMW 1 series.
Wagner says automaker demand for fuel economy improvements is pushing demand for its six-speed automatic.
Generally speaking, there is a 3 percent to 4 percent fuel economy increase when an automaker switches from a four-speed automatic to a five-speed, Wagner says. Fuel economy increases about 5 percent if an automaker switches from a five-speed automatic to a six.
ZF makes a distinction between its automatic and manual/automatic transmissions.
The Shifttronic manual/automatic, available as a seven-speed, debuted on the 2005 BMW M5. That transmission is engineered for high-performance vehicles.