Ford, GM Team Up on Transmissions

General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are preparing to jointly develop nine- and 10-speed vehicle transmissions to help them meet future fuel economy standards. Although neither has yet made a formal announcement, the two automotive giants have signed a memorandum of understanding that would enable them to work cooperatively on transmissions that might be ready for production as early as 2015.

"We think they will be phased in from 2015 to 2017 across Ford's and GM's product lineups," Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain for LMC Automotive US Inc. , said in an interview.

The joint development effort would be a big step forward for both companies, neither of which currently offers more than six speeds in a production vehicle. GM has been building eight-speed automatic transmissions at its assembly plant in Toldeo, Ohio, but none of those transmissions are yet offered in current vehicles. In contrast, selected BMW, Audi, and Lexus vehicles already feature eight-speed automatics.

Omotoso said that migrating from a six-speed to a nine- or 10-speed could improve fuel economy by approximately 10 percent, and maybe more in larger vehicles. "Everything will get a boost," he told us. "But the big improvements will be in the larger vehicles that tend to use rear-wheel drive."

The fuel economy improvements will be critical as automakers move toward new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards of 35.5mpg by 2016 and 54.5mpg by 2025.

"With CAFE challenges ahead of us, all automakers are looking at ways to actively and aggressively improve fuel economy," Dan Flores, manager of powertrain communications for GM, said. Flores did not confirm details of the agreement, but did acknowledge that a memorandum of understanding had been signed by the two companies.

Omotoso added that he expects GM and Ford to use the new transmissions in vehicles that currently employ six-speed units. Those include the Chevy Malibu and Cruze, Ford Taurus, and Explorer, Cadillac CTS and ATS, and Lincoln MKZ. GM and Ford declined to comment on the models, however. Both companies said they would release more information when they make a formal announcement in the coming weeks.

The collaboration is not the first between Ford and GM. The two teamed up on six-speed automatics for larger cars a decade ago, and then cooperated again on six-speed automatics for smaller vehicles four years ago. By moving to nine- and 10-speed products this time, Ford will leapfrog eight-speed technology. "If you have six speeds now and you see the industry moving to greater than eight, why would you develop an eight-speed?" Ford spokesman Richard Truett said. "You'd just have to replace it anyway."

Industry experts said the new transmissions represent just one ingredient in the fuel economy recipe. Others include engines, tires, body materials, wiring, and hybrid systems. "Even before 2025, they still have to hit the 2016 standard and that's going to be hard," Omotoso said. "It's going to take a big portfolio of technologies to get there."

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