Compared with four- and five-speed transmissions then on the market, ZF’s six-speed had greater torque capacity, 30 percent fewer parts, 13 percent less weight, a 5 to 7 percent improvement in fuel consumption, better acceleration and a smaller package size.
Eight years later, ZF won again for its eight-speed transmission, designed to work with gasoline, diesel or hybrid powerplants.
In 2014, ZF won for a nine-speed designed for front- and all-wheel-drive cars and crossovers. Until then, the transmission specialist had no transverse-mounted gearbox for fwd vehicles.
ZF’s nine-speed transmission provided a wide spread of gear ratios. This kept engine rpms in the optimal range, increasing fuel efficiency. The design was also simple and compact, with two of the four planetary gear sets nested together.
A plant was built in Gray Court, S.C., to make the nine-speed. Its original production capacity was set at 800,000 transmissions a year. But at the grand opening, ZF said it already needed to bump capacity 50 percent to 1.2 million a year.