Nine Speeds, Ten Speeds: All To Keep Up With CAFE

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In a few years, six-speed transmissions will probably seem as dated as Powerglides or threes-on-the-tree do today. Several current model-year cars already have seven and even eight-speed transmissions (Porsche 911, Chrysler 300, BMW 5 Series, etc.).trans 1

This is about twice the number of gears the typical automotive transmission boasted as recently as the Clinton Years. When I was a kid, three-speed automatics were common. And the only vehicles with more than five speeds had Kenworth or Mack on their radiator shells.

Well, get ready for the nine-speed box. And after that, the ten speed box. Not for big-rigs. For your next new car.

Or truck.

These new transmissions are being developed by GM and Ford – working in collaboration. “Engineering teams from GM and Ford have already started initial design work,” said Jim Lanzon, GM vice president of global transmission engineering. “We expect these new transmissions to raise the standard of technology, performance and quality for our customers while helping drive fuel economy improvements into both companies’ future product portfolios.”

Italics added.

The latter item – helping drive fuel economy improvements – is of course the key factor driving all this. Tighter gear spacing reduces RPM drop between each gear change as the car accelerates; this in turn improves fuel efficiency. Not stupendously. But these days – and in days to come – every little improvement matters. A lot. Most people know that come 2016, all new cars will have to average 35.5 MPG. But outside of the car business, not many people know about the next round of government fuel-efficiency mandates (CAFE, in the argot of the federal bureaucracy). Come 2025 – which is not all that far down the road – all new cars will have to average 54.5 MPG.Image converted using ifftoany (News story here.)

This is roughly double what the typical new economy car averages today.

Hence, the scramble to develop transmissions that will result in more fuel-efficient engines.

In addition to getting a car up to speed more efficiently, the next-generation transmissions will also help them to cruise much more efficiently. Current year cars already have overdrive transmissions that reduce engine RPM at cruising speeds (in top gear) to not much above a fast idle – around 2,000 RPM or so at about 60 MPH being pretty typical. But if that could be cut down to 1,500 RPM or even less at the same road speed, the car would be even more economical to operate. A given car that’s capable of say 40 MPG on the highway might be capable of 45 MPG at the same road speed, just by cutting the engine RPMs to 1,500 or so from 2,000 or so. But, there’s a problem – with current transmissions. They don’t have enough gears – or rather, the spread between say fourth and overdrive fifth is too much to allow for a “deeper” overdrive (top gear) fifth. The engine would lug – and the car would be uncomfortable to drive. An additional gear to take up the spread between fourth and overdrive fifth (or fifth and overdrive sixth) is needed. Hence the additional gearing. Each one represents a small step forward, but each step is made less abrupt by having many small steps rather than four or five bigger ones.trans 3

Wonderful – especially if it helps trucks and SUVs (and larger, RWD cars) survive. Which GM and Ford spokesmen have admitted, albeit somewhat elliptically, is a major motivator egging on the development of these transmissions. It’s one thing – a much easier thing – to get a compact or even mid-sized car with a four-cylinder engine over the 35.5 MPG hump (and within spitting distance of the 54.5 MPG bump). Several are already close. Hybrids are already there. But a 1500 series truck? With a 5-ish liter V-8 engine? The current (2013) Chevy Silverado 1500 regular cab with 2WD and a 4.3 liter V-6 gets 15 city, 20 highway. A 1500 series extended cab with 4WD and a 4.8 liter V-8 comes in at 14 city, 19 highway.  The mileage of these kinds of vehicles is going to have to double – literally – within 12 years. And just two model years from now, GM and Ford – and anyone else who wants to sell a traditional truck or SUV or even a car with anything larger than a four under its hood – is going to be facing possibly ruinous government fines for not making the 35.5 MPG cut.

So, these new many-speed transmissions – and any other technology that makes it feasible, from a technology point-of-view, to continue manufacturing other-than-compact-sized cars with other-than-very-small four-cylinder engines is being looked at with the same eager lust that 14-year-old boys used to look at their first copy of Penthouse.tranny obama

The big downside is, of course, the price tag. These transmissions are not going to be inexpensive. Current seven and eight-speed boxes (found almost exclusively in high-end cars) run as much as three or even four thousand bucks each at the retail level. So if one craps out on you after it’s out of warranty and the car is ten or twelve years old – maybe less – it could be a “throw-away” moment. That moment might come a lot sooner, too, if the car is not a high-end car – which will be the case as these transmissions become commonplace over the next several years.

Then we’ll all find out just how much 35.5 MPG (and 54.5 MPG) cars really cost.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. Eric, I have a question.

    A skilled mechanic can basically build a car from parts. And since this is a unique new car, not a manufactured car, it is up to that skilled mechanic to decide what to put into that car. All these laws, especially the safety laws, are designed around the company manufactured car and the fleet standards.

    So that skilled mechanic goes ahead and builds a unique car. Some parts are purchased, some parts are home made. It doesn’t have airbags or backup cameras, it has a transmission that isn’t absurd like the ones described in the article. Due to what you wrote about fuel efficiency of 1980 economy cars, it is absurdly fuel efficient by combining their lower weight with modern technology.

    So this skilled mechanic creates the Peters Sport I. And he goes to the DMV to get it registered. Can he?

    • Hi Ayn,

      State laws vary, but many allow “kit” cars (for example, the Lotus 7 and AC Cobra replicas ) and of course, many hot rods (such as modified Model As) are so modified that the only thing they have in common with the original is the name and maybe a serial number.

      But I expect they’ll lock down this end-run, too, if enough people went that route. And forget about building more than 1 – and trying to sell it.

      • So he can register it, for now. And he’s not required to have all the additional clover safety equipment. For now, but it is still possible.

        What I have in mind isn’t building more than one. What I have in mind is “car in a box”. It will be a box of parts that even a non-expert can use to build a car, so that anyone can individually build a “Peters Sport I” on their own. It would be easier to assemble than a “kit” car as they currently exist. An “Ikea” car if you will, as opposed to buying lumber and nails at the hardware store to build a bookshelf.

        • Yup – it’s doable.

          Just as I can still legally ride a parts-built motorcycle.

          But I am certain they are going to lock this down – and much more besides. I have been waiting for them to announce that – as an example – all cars made before “x” date must either be updated to meet all current “safety” and “emissions” standards – or be consigned to museums/used only for driving to/from car shows. Old motorcycles will be included, too.

          They will not indefinitely permit people to drive (and ride) bikes without GPS and black boxes and other means of electronic monitoring and control.

          Depend upon it.

          • Well, that’s why they want you to dock your cell phones. Cell phones can be used to track people, but most people forget about that while saying no to GPS being built into their car.

  2. Old Hick, you’re killing me, first laugh I’ve had today. It really is sarcasm isn’t it? Your writing breaks me up. Shades of The Shining, He’s Baaack. Well, you sure have my number. Just Sunday I said to the little woman, Ma(that’s what I call her sometimes)Ma, let’s go out and drive like bats out of hell. The she said Only if we can go to the hood and score some crack. I said You’re on, but I get to drive over so I can handle the pipe coming back. What a Mother’s Day it was. Out on the open road, shooting road signs, running over bunnies and scaring everybody on the road coming up behind them at 150 in our Coot!!

  3. Nine speeds. Just who the heck needs nine speeds anyhow. This is only being done so you damn maniacs can drive like a bat out of hell and not feel as guilty for wasting fuel.

    • In fairness to OHS and others here, there’s obviously going to a law of diminishing returns to adding more gears (I know it’s already been noted). Nonetheless, 6 and 7 gears are normal nowadays whereas 3, 4 and 5 gears used to the norm a generation ago. So is 6 or 7 gears really overkill or an improvement over before? I would like to think it’s the latter. (Nine gears may seem overkill today but it may not be so bad for automatic and sport shift cars once you get used to them.)

      • I’ve driven (and reviewed) several with seven and eight speed automatics; from the driver’s point of view, the difference between say a six speed automatic and an eight speed automatic is negligible. Up and downshifts are almost imperceptible. The main benefit these transmissions provide is better fuel economy. But its arguable this is negated (overall) by the higher up-front and down-the-road costs of these more complex/expensive transmissions.

  4. GM got the govt. paid off last year so what’s the big deal?


    Really? GM borrowed more money from the gubmint to pay the gubmint back. If you add in the losses from GMAC, we taxpayers are still tens of billions in the hole.

    • “GM borrowed more money from the gubmint to pay the gubmint back. If you add in the losses from GMAC, we taxpayers are still tens of billions in the hole.”

      That’s what I thought too when I first read the comment. It’s all just a big paper shuffle and slight of hand.

  5. When all that they are making is 10 speeds the price of the transmission will come way down. CVT’s are great alternative; they supposedly have infinite speeds.

    • Hi Charlie,

      Dunno, man.

      Back in the ’80s, when the OEMs went to electronically controlled four speed automatics with lock-up converters, the price jumped considerably relative to what something like a TH350 or TH400 cost. You can still get a high quality (B&M, TCI, etc.) rebuilt TH350 for under $800. For example:

      Now, move up to a four-speed electronic OD:

      And the TH700 dates back to the ’80s!

      Why is the price of the 700 so much higher than the price of the TH350/TH400?

      It’s a more complicated transmission.

      Now, I’m not opposed to improved technology. But there’s often a price to be paid for it.

  6. It seems some comments and/or points made in the article are implying that you will achieve better fuel efficiency with lower RPM’s. I do not think this is accurate. You will get the best fuel efficiency when your engine is operating at its peak efficency (i.e. its highest ratio of output energy / input energy); this is acheived at or near peak torque, iirc. My vehicle reaches peak torque around 2500rpm. If I am travelling 55 mph in 5th @ 2500 rpm, I would only reduce my fuel efficiency by shifting into 6th and reducing rpm (and essentially lugging the engine).

    In short, lower final drive is only beneficial MPG-wise if it doesnt lower you below peak torque.

    Someone please correct me if my line of thinking is wrong

    • CORRECTION – I think peak torque is more like 4000rpm, not sure why i had in my head 2500. But that just highlights the issue even more: I dont think you want to be cruising at lower rpm’s.

    • The car engine is at its most fuel-efficient when idling at minimum revs (around 750 revs/min), period. My car would be consuming 6x the rate of fuel at max torque than at idling. Duh.Clover

      • Gil go learn what efficiency means.

        Efficiency is a ratio of output/input. At 750rpm you have little energy input but practically no output so it’s unlikely to be efficient.

        However fuel economy is not measured as efficiency. It is measured as unit distance per unit volume of fuel. Thus efficiency really doesn’t matter as much. Thus the goal is to have an output just barely enough to maintain forward speed. It doesn’t matter that engine is not efficient at this particular rpm because the amount of fuel being consumed is smaller than it would be at engine speeds of higher efficiency where there is greater output that isn’t needed.

      • No way. The amount of fuel being used is not directly tied to the engine rpm. If it was, how would you ever accelerate? If you lug the engine along in 5th gear when going 30mph, I can guarantee you are getting much worse gas mileage than me in 3rd gear (you have much more pressure on the accelerator); not to mention being harder on your engine than need be.

        Think of it like a cyclist going up a hill. Which tires you out more: going up in high gear and pumping as hard as possible on the pedals or in low gear, cranking away with ease?

        • Once acceleration is finished then the lower the revs the less fuel is being consumed, period. Hence modern cars have cruising gears. But then of course almost all fuel savings are “clover stuff”: fewer cylinders, low car mass, lower cruising revs. The only non-clover fuel saving and thus endorsed by E.P. & friends is drafting.Clover

          • Gil,

            Why must you resort to lies at every step? You know perfectly well I’m all for fuel-efficient cars. I have written numerous articles praising light/inexpensive and easy-on-gas cars. I think they’re great. What I’m opposed to is forcing them (or cost-adding “fuel efficient” technologies) down people’s throats via legislation.

            If enough people want, say, hybrid or electric cars and are willing to pay the true cost of designing and manufacturing them, with some profit for the manufacturer on top of net cost – then hybrid and electric cars (and so on) would be built without any need for mandates. That’s how it ought to be. Let a given type of car (or technology) succeed – or fail – on its merits.

            Your posts would carry more weight if they weren’t so deliberately dishonest.

          • How many here are of the small cars = more deaths from crashes mentality? The lower mass car is going to take the brunt of the crash. Doubly so if the small car is made soft, lightweight materials whereas a pickup truck is made up of solid, heavier materials (which they usually are). Not to mention few here have a love of airbags to make up for the lack of car mass drop.

            • Yes, it’s true that (in general and all else being equal) a small/lightweight car is less crashworthy than a larger/heavier car. But is a crash inevitable or even likely? Most “accidents” aren’t. In the sense that they are usually the result of driver error and so could have been avoided. An alert, skilled driver can avoid most – not all – but most “accidents.” It’s a reasonable thing to prefer the tangible, everyday advantages of a smaller, lighter more fuel efficient car over the theoretical advantages of a car that would hold up better in a wreck. A wreck that may never occur. Meanwhile, you’re stuck with the everyday disadvantages of a heavier, less fuel efficient – and thus, more expensive to own/operate – car.

              In any case, the main issue is it ought to be every person’s free choice to make. To weigh the pros and cons – and then decide what’s best. Not to be told what’s best – according to some other person (or persons, constituting the government).

              I drove an old Beetle for years – in heavy DC traffic. Loved that little car. It cost me next to nothing to buy – or to operate. It let me save my money for other things that mattered more to me than air bags and ABS and crumple zone construction and back-up cameras and all the rest of it.

              Today, a young kid is stuck with a debt albatross around his neck instead. Because control freaks have decided on his behalf that “safety” matters more (to them) than his liberty – or his financial well-being.

      • Actually Gil, using your bassackwards methods of reasoning and logic, your car engine woudl be “at its most fuel-efficient” when it is parked and shut off. Coincidentally the roads in your normal sphere of travel would also be much safer while your car was in that state. Your computer would also be much more “energy efficient” if you would do us the courtesy of shutting that off as well. Don’t worry about the energy efficiency of your brain though. From many of here can tell you’ve had that shut off at least since you began posting here. 😀

  7. So? The point of the modern six-speed auto is to create a cruise gear for pretty any speed on the road meaning when you’re not accelerating the engine is close to idle. Mine sits under 1500 revs/min all the time when not accelerating.Clover

    • my new Tundra has a 6 speed. thats plenty, the old one had a 5 speed.

      soon as I get off the interstate and on surface streets I put it in 4th anyway, otherwise it tries to get 5th and 6th gear at 40-45 mph, really annoying.

      and the stupid thing WILL NOT ever shift back into first, no matter how steep the hill or how heavy the trailer, unless you shift it by hand.

  8. Justin, the problem with adding another gearbox is reliability and increased gear drag. I can get another box but have doubts it would take the torque and know it would be parasitic. I might drop rpm to discover I haven’t gained any economy. As far as slushboxes go, you’d be correct about Ford. My whole life we referred to them as “Slushomatics”. GM had the indestructable Turbo 400 and then the 4L80E, the computer controlled variant as well as the 4L60E, a tranny my transmission man says about it “you couldn’t put enough tire under your vehicle to hurt it”. I watched everybody here in Tx. go through their 3/4T4WD Toy’s and turn them into trash, even Toyota said they weren’t stout enough to do the heavy gooseneck thing everybody here does. We treat 3/4 T pickups like they’re big trucks and it works fine for Dodge and GM, frames and all. Now that the bloom is off the rose, everybody’s back to Dodge and GM again. Toyota had a powerful V-8 but less fuel mileage and no more power than GM. Everybody can stay on their Government Motors jag but I’ll stay with the best PIckup made.

    • GM trucks are ok,, I just wonder what they were thinking putting the door handle down by your ankle,

      and the seats…. uhhh, the way they are scooped out, you have to hunch over, and the non removable headrests, those of us that are in and out of the truck all day with a hardhat , the first thing we do is toss out the headrests.

      I didnt have a choice with the Tundra, its a company truck, but it does have the largest cab, the rear doors are longer than the front doors, the rear door is 48” long, remove the back seat, you can get ALOT of equipment & toolboxes in there.

      we dont tow trailers all day, I do tow em about once a month, but its not been a problem. It tows a 3 yard dump trailer with 9,000 lbs of gravel in it, no problem.

  9. I can get a Cadillac station wagon with a manual, but not a pickup truck with a manual,
    whats wrong with this picture.?

    in a few years the Toyota Tundra will be the only pickup with a real V-8, (any my current one has the 390 HP 5.7) because Toyota sells enough small cars to still meet the CAFE avg

    Getting lots of extra gears is easy, 18 wheelers have had it for years, same with the Gear Vendors OD, you put a OD box on the back of the trans and use OD on and off in every gear, 1st direct, 1st OD, 2nd direct, 2nd OD etc etc.

    GM and Ford cant make a 4 speed slushbox that will last more than about 95K, neither can Honda or VW.

    Im guessing a GM 10 speed will self destruct at about 40K, shortly after the warranty expires.

    • “GM and Ford cant make a 4 speed slushbox that will last more than about 95K, neither can Honda or VW.”

      I beg to differ. My 1999 Grand Prix GTP has the 3800 V6 Supercharged engine coupled with GM’s 4T65 Tranny. It lasted 205k miles.

  10. One general approach I like for many problems is, go retro to some older method but update it with more modern techniques, materials, etc. Applying that to transmissions, I like the idea of a Ford model T type epicyclic gearbox with two forward gears and one reverse operated by clutch-like pedals (one pedal for each of low and reverse gears, with high gear when neither is depressed – and hopefully an interlock to prevent both pedals being depressed together), with the clutch replaced by a Constantinesco mechanical torque converter made with V profile phosphor bronze sprags and driven drum that bear less steeply and with less force than the original flat profile kind made of materials that were more prone to metal fatigue. The thing is, a mechanical torque converter can have much lower losses than a hydrodynamic one, so the whole arrangement should provide decent behaviour over a wide range of road speeds. I’d call that a semi-automatic transmission, if that name hadn’t already been taken. I don’t know about noise issues and general feel, though, and of course I have no direct practical data to defend this extrapolation; it just seems worth looking into, if anyone has the facilities to find out more solidly.

  11. This lowering of rpm to achieve the same highway speed means that the old adage of more power needed to move the car against air resistance is dead wrong.

    • Hi Joe,

      The car companies have tremendously reduced rolling resistance via improved aerodynamics (including underbody pans) and low-friction components. I test drive new cars every week and even the big/heavy ones will maintain speed if you lift off the gas for quite some time – relative to the cars of the past.

      That plus really deep overdrive gearing gives some impressive results. A new Corvette, for example, can trundle along at close to 80 in sixth (manual transmission) with the engine running barely 2,000 RPM.

      • I’ve often wondered about this too, given I dabble in physics and aerodynamics.

        Of course there’s always an increase in drag at higher speeds, from the air, engine, gearbox, and diff oils including wheel bearing grease. You’re all correct but there are a few more things to consider.

        I drive a sporty little NX Pulsar, it’s very light and you definitely notice the air drag when an oncoming truck passes you on the highway. But when I’m loaded up with weight, that’s considerably reduced, air resistance being the same. The car has more momentum/kinetic energy to push through the same drag, requiring less throttle to maintain given velocity.

        While it has to work harder uphills, it’s returned on the downhills. It sounds counter-intuitive, but on a level surface at constant speed though, the extra weight actually reduces the need for more throttle input. I always save fuel in these conditions, but there must be a limit to this somewhere.

        However, pottering around fully loaded in city traffic can only make it worse as there’s little drag to speak of, besides the heavy load which remains constant.

        Also, maintaining an RPM within the peak power band is very helpful, as the engine is delivering more power at the same throttle opening as at lower speeds, remembering that the increased airflow and RPM may be increasing the fuel uptake through the carbs, but the higher intake flows mean better efficiency for the engine which is why it’s more responsive and efficient for the amount of fuel burned.

        I found that on the same trip in the same conditions (Melbourne to Ballarat – mostly freeway), I get 12.5k’s/litre at 110k/h unloaded, 14k’s/l at 130k/h loaded, 11k’s/l unloaded and 12k’s/l loaded at 180 (The children!). Hehe. Kids shouldn’t play on freeways 😉

        My bike gets better mileage at 130 than it does at 90k/h – give a damn if I gotta “speed” to achieve it.

        It seems weird but those are the figures I get. There are a few factors at work here.

        • REV, if you had ever driven an eighteen wheeler you’d be a dyed in the wool advocate of this. The fact is, going 80mph at the bottom of a big hill that you might be going 50mph humping over the top yields not only much greater fuel economy but much less wear on every part of that truck. The big lie they always told involved driving a big rig around a flat track at 55mph and then doing it ten miles an hour faster. Well, gee, whaddya think? Sure it will use less fuel at 55 but that translates into pure bullshit in real world conditions. I never drove down any road, even on the plains that appears to be flatter than a pool table and not have the downhill,uphill thing come into play. I even had a hiway patrol at Cross Plains Tx. tell me by my CB handle I was going over 60 at the bottom of a hill to which I said you’re right but I won’t be anywhere in that neighborhood at the top and I’m trying to make a living. We suffered brutally through those years of 55mph.

          • You’re right there Eight. I’ve driven Army trucks for some years and momentum is the greatest asset, regardless of what clover thinks. Speed limits destroy any notion of attaining best fuel economy for big rigs especially.

            Momentum, being kinetic energy, is decribed in Joules. The formula being: K =(mass x speed) squared. After some conversions, using this formula you can accurately predict that a 90kg person on a 10kg bicycle at 80k/h produces an impact force almost 2.5 metric tons. At 40k/h about 650kg. Surprising eh?

            Largely, truckies tend to feel the greater impact of loads as their tyres are always at load-bearing pressures. Their fuel economy is usually always up if they’re unloaded. Any slight change in gradient can be felt in a big rig.

            In cars however, running around on over-inflated tyres, although more economical, is dangerous.

            A simple experiment will show that a smooth steel ball and a smooth plastic one on any gradient at the same speed will yield the steel one goes further, due to more mass working against air drag primarily. The smoother the surface, the less drag there also.

            The heavier car will have to accelerate harder to match the lighter one, but maintaining speed against abrupt headwinds is easier for the heavier one and, the heavier one can get off the throttle and coast for longer before having to apply the brake to stop.

          • I should also mention (for the clovers out there – not you Eight) that rigs don’t have the power to weight ratio of cars and therefore suffer at every slight change in gradient.

            Take the trailer off a rig and there’s a much better power to weight ratio, but the gear ratio’s don’t change and so there’s more suffering to be had “stirring the stick”.

            Diesel engines produce plenty of torque, but their acceleration lacks as is the nature of that engine and the power to weight ratio.

      • Almost forgot.. Adjusting tyre (correct English spelling) pressures upward to cancel road drag against the load is also important, otherwise the load will reduce efficiency markedly.

      • There’s really noting really new about 2000rpm at 80mph. My ’97 does 2200 RPM at 80 in 5th and if I had not got the optional rear gear ratio it would have been close to 2000. A bigger OD 6th would just compensate for a more aggressive final drive ratio.

  12. Excellent article Eric. Sorry if I sounded like a paranoid delusional on one of my posts on here earlier today. Of course idiot and clovers are convenient in all aspects of life so its no surprise they are here. Anyway I enjoy what both you and Dom put forth and want you to know that you’re changing the world in the best possible way.

    Love the articles and really like the audience in the rooms as well. I’ll admit that we all think from different disciplines in life but that is in fact what makes this freedom chatroom so intriguing because its comes from all kinds of enlightening perspective and the people here are the future. Its a pleasure and honor conversing with all of you on here. Open and very big minds here.


    • “sounded like a paranoid delusional” <- that just means you're paying the F attention. Doesn't it?
      Because you're Not paranoid if they Really Are out to get you.
      Anyway, you and I have never conversed so I won't include myself in that whole "very big minds" bit, however; I share your appreciation of the "all kinds of enlightening perspective and the people here are the future" statement.

      And, hats off to dom for fixing things on EPA, it's speedy now!

      Also, whoever that was from Down Under, I forget, who posted the old music video of the Ticky Taky Everybody's The Same – thanks – that really made our night.

      • Heh. That was me Downshift [blush].. Even when I was 7 years old I started to see the irony portrayed in that song. I remember it to this day.

      • Ditto down here Hot Rod. Hey Eric;

        “My ’83 Honda has only five speeds – and could really use an OD 6th”

        Maybe fit an engine sprocket that’s 2 teeth bigger if possible, or a smaller rear sprocket by about the same ratio (if it uses chains). You’ll probably drop about 800rpm at cruise, unless you want to keep it original of course.

        Taking off at the lights in 1st will feel a bit less responsive, like somewhere between 1st and second, but any normal acceleration is just about the same. The gears will feel a bit taller.

        I’ve done this on all of my bikes and once you get used to it, the “cruiseability” around town is better. You don’t have to hunt for gears as often at any speed.

    • ” Open and very big minds here.”

      Glad you’re here, HR. I may carry the paranoia too far, myself. My motto is: “Just because they ain’t out to get you doesn’t mean they won’t”.

  13. Somehow, I can’t see 9 or 10 speed manual gearboxes on the everyday cage being a good idea, let alone popular.

    Imagine the hassle and lack of actual concentration on driving when you’re constantly shuffling gears around town. Sure you can always skip some, but it’s still only useful on an auto tranny or if it’s sequential.

    On sequential, although my CBR1000 has (only!) 6 gears, I tired of the left-foot shuffle and swapped cogs, making 6th gear a virtual overdrive for the highways saving fuel and wear. Having taller gears on an already powerful engine also helps me keep up with newer, more powerful bikes since I don’t have to drop power to shift as often in the climb to speed.

    Especially at the lights. While the other guy’s already into 5th, I’m about to change to 4th and passing him.

    • Nine forward gears is probably over kill. Seven would be a good final number.

      1st gear is on the short side to provide enough torque to get moving.
      Gears 2-6 are 5 close ratio gears that can provide good acceleration if needed.
      7th gear can be very tall to provide relaxed driving (and better fuel economy) at highway (55+) speeds.

      In most driving at speeds below 60mph one would not need to use 7th gear.

      (Apologies if I am not using the proper names for the different terms)
      I vaguely remember somewhere that BMW (IIRC) had the philosophy of having the final (top) gear be at a 1:1 ratio. The axel ratio was lower 2.93 (or some other similar number)

      I wonder what would be the benefit of having the engine with a 1:1 top gear ratio? Would part of the logic be in having an appropriately sized engine for a given vehicle mass?

      • I think seven is a good number for a manual tranny too. I’d like 5th to be 1:1 then 6th an overdrive, and 7th more of an overdrive.

        • dom, I’d bet your bike would be really sweet with another overdrive gear. 1st might be a bit lower and other gears a closer ratio and that would all be to the good.

          • I actually have a custom tranny on the hog right now. First is taller than normal 5th is 1:1 and 6th is .86. I can stay in 1st for a good bit of time and 6th is strictly over 70mph only. If I heel click into 6th any sooner it bogs even with 125ft/lbs of torque. Honestly, I don’t get much over 100mph with the hog. It’s too big and clumsy. The KZ could use a 6th though!

            • My ’83 Honda has only five speeds – and could really use an OD 6th. The engine – a 650 cc twin – has a wide powerband and a high redline (9,500 RPM) but at 70-ish it’s turning around 5,000 and feels “busy.”

              Weird thing: I once had another ’83 Honda (Nighthawk) with an inline four and it had overdrive.

          • My bad, I meant to say lower first gear (can stay in first longer). The stock was too tall and I was having to shift too early for my taste. I can get almost an additional 10+mph shifting at the same rpm now. Aside from having to milk the hell out of the clutch when doing figure eights and other super tight slow moving maneuvers, it’s awesome. For regular riding and hauling ass it’s the shit! If I could change one thing I’d get a deeper overdrive, something like .80.

        • dom, we were on the same page. I took it to mean it was a higher final drive, hence taller, less high number. My diesel could use another OD with its 4.10 final drive. It’s great for trailer pulling but I replaced the blow off valve on the turbo with a different type and have more power so another OD would be great. When I’m thinking about other things I’ll get into OD, get up to about 2500 rpm and just automatically shift into…whoops, not another gear. I must have done it a million times. A friend has a Dodge diesel with a 7 speed and his 1st gear is like my under drive. My tranny is New Gear Vendors 4500, HD 3 sp with under-drive and OD. If you can’t pull something in under-drive it’s because your tires are spinning.

      • In most cases I can think of the reason for a one to one ratio is strength and durability. Many large trucks have dual gearboxes like 4X4, 4X5, 5X5, 5X6. This gave you more deep gears as well as more matches to peak torque. With deeper gears you can run higher speed rear gears although this is self limiting because of ring and pinion size might get too small. You also have fewer “overdrive” gears, ratios that in effect will give you higher speeds. While stirring a stick is a distraction for some, others don’t really notice it. I can feel the torque band, hear the engine and know what gear I need to be in. A tach was merely a confirmation when the governor kicked in for me although I never ran to that point since you can feel where the torque is. If you have to look at the tach to shift, you won’t ever be much of a driver. It’s easy for some, not so for others. Do what comes easy to you and leave those things that are not your thing for others. Not saying take the easy way out, just do what you’re suited for. Why spend your life trying to play baseball for a living if you throw like a girl? All that effort and someone invites you to dance and you discover you’re a wonder on your feet to music. Well, you get the picture. If you can’t hear a note, don’t try to be an opera star.

        • On my old mans Civic I “knew” at which speed at RPM to shift at. Most of the time it was by feel. Now that I’m trying to get some practice back in on a big rig I’m constantly amazed at how someone “floats”. Not there yet but some day!

    • Hi Rev,

      These boxes are automatics. Manuals are becoming niche transmissions. No large trucks offer manuals at all anymore. Very few large/medium-sized sedans do. Even in sporty cars, automatics – including automated manuals and CVTs – are becoming the rule rather than the exception. CAFE pressure will further this trend along. Manuals will probably still be available in a few cars – high-performance sports cars and such – but probably within 10 years, nine-point-something out of ten cars will be automatic-equipped.

          • IIRC Dodge will still let you have a manual truck but only with the the diesel engine. Certainly no gas/manual light trucks left though.

          • hey eric, Me2, I had no idea Dodge was the only one. Amazing how a manufacturer can screw up and it keeps and keeps on giving. I’m speaking of when GM would only sell you a 307 or 305 in a half ton pickup unless you went 3/4T and you still couldn’t get a big block unless you got a one ton. That haunted them for a decade or more. Same for Ford on their 6.0L diesels that were junk. They’ve had Cummins diesels for years now but can’t sell them with Dodge and GM selling diesels like hot cakes.

          • ” Amazing how a manufacturer can screw up and it keeps and keeps on giving. ”

            Hey, give me enough stolen public funds and I can keep any company going too, no matter how incompetently it is run.

          • Me2, something I never figured out was when Ford got $5B from the govt. a couple years earlier and nobody said shit. I guess it was because it wasn’t BO who did it and he didn’t get into their business. Both companies paid the money back and I have no problem with that. I’m not set up to design and produce vehicles yet so it didn’t cut into my business. Firing Wagonner from GM was an illegal and stupid move. He had done more for GM, restructuring it and getting rid of those bad labor contracts than anyone before. If you actually kept up with automotive industry news, you knew this was a shit deal. GM got the govt. paid off last year so what’s the big deal? How much money have wall street banks given back? And the plan has always been nothing more than sheer graft on the largest scale ever seen. Now we paid for their profits, out and out and we’ll continue to pay for it.

          • eric, several years ago when I bought a new boost control the guy who sold it to me in Washington state said he had ordered a new Duramax and they called when it came in. He got to the dealership and not only was it on the truck but there were some heavy half pickups with the same diesel(300hp version). They were slated to start building them and shipped an unknown quantity out. He bought one of those heavy half tons since all he wanted was the diesel. They told him there would be more but that obviously wasn’t to be. Since then GM has announced they were going to make a small diesel which they did build to use in half tons. Once the BO thing happened and the illegal firing of a CEO, nothing has been said at GM about either pickup. Another example of political over-reach. I saw pics of some of those half tons with the small diesel so they did exist at one time and were planned for production, exactly what the market place wanted. So what happened? Obviously it’s hard to plan future product when politicians can replace CEO’s and anyone else.

          • Eight, the money ford got, research and development money, factory building money, tooling money, that sort of thing every automaker on the planet I think gets from one or more governments. It’s what is now business as usual and that’s why nobody noticed.

            The bailouts, just money handed out for no specific purpose other than to keep a company from failing was new. These sort of bailouts are very rare for manufacturers. They were established for banking.

          • BrentP, I had my ear close to the ground then and read the stuff no one was saying to any degree. Ford lost their ass for a number of reasons. Their diesel pickups, the real money makers for all the big 3, were going down left and right and had been for 5 years which affected the rest of their pickup sales. One Ford guy tells another what a piece of crap he got and how much money he lost(I have a friend who runs thousands of autos through a big sale in Lubbock every week and he told me he could get me a diesel Ford pickup from that era for practically nothing)and the next guy doesn’t buy the small Ford pickup with a gas engine because of his buddy getting screwed. I don’t say it makes sense but that’s the way it goes. Ford also didn’t have any really competitive vehicles at the time, they’re sales were non-existent. They got bailed out, plain and simple. I have no problem with that. They paid it back. GM got bailed out, same thing. I still have no problem, they paid it back. It’s sorta like debating between wheat and triticale, who cares as long as the bill is paid?

            • “…who cares as long as the bill is paid?”

              I do.

              Because it means you and I are to be forced to provide the “loan.”

              It is socialism for the rich – the free market for you and I.

              Government, if it has any justification at all, exists to protect individual rights. But “bailing out” anyone entails a violation of some people’s rights for the material benefit of other people. Once you accept that – for any reason – you have opened up the floodgates. Because now it’s just a matter of making the case for the next subsidy, the next bailout, the next “worthy investment” of other people’s money.

              I love cars – and bikes – and machinery. But no one – no company – is entitled to force others to subsidize their manufacture.

          • eric, on the subject of GM, I’d agree with you on principle. I’ve been so sickened by the loss of jobs in the last couple decades due to NAFTA, CAFTA, GATT and the like I can put up with bailing out any car company to save literally hundreds of thousands of jobs. Never said I liked it, can just live with it. What I really detest is the route we took in getting to this point. I have my principles but every now and then the choice between principle and reality gets a bit blurred. Every time I thought about bailouts of any sort I got mad, full well knowing why it got to that point but got sad knowing the alternative. I don’t look at it as a win/win situation, just better than taking another huge economic hit and maybe more than just huge, maybe something the country might not recover from. As far as wall street bailouts go, no sympathy for the devil.

            • I’m sympathetic to the people facing the loss of their jobs – largely through no fault of their own. I get that. I despise NAFTA and MFN. Touted as “free trade” – they are anything but. They are in fact slave labor arbitrage for the benefit of multinational corporate cartels. “Free trade” my ass!

              What infuriates me about – as an example – GM – is the way they just wasted money on scheisse like the Aztek (good story behind that one) and continued with a business model (seven-plus full-line divisions of largely badge-engineered cars) for decades after that model was no longer tenable.

              The Volt thing pisses me off to no end, too.

  14. ZF developed a 9-speed automatic and it’s compact and has fewer parts than typical 5-speed units. ZF claims that 9-speeds are optimal and more would be diminishing return. What the psychopaths in DC are actually doing is creating a tax to the consumer. If I was dictator, I would tell my retarded tax cattle(RTC) that car exhaust is “bad” and then demand those evil manufacturers get 67.894 MPG from their cars knowing that it’s a physical impossibility. The RTC would cheer me on as they would never be able to figure out that the fines are passed on to them in higher prices for cars…they would just blame the evil manufacturers. It’s a good thing for us dictators that RTC are so stupid…eh? Public Schools are our greatest invention!

  15. Being a bicycle rider I can understand the desire to maintain the most efficient RPM out of an engine. When I was much younger we had 10 speeds, then 12, 15 and now the standard road bike is up to 21 speeds or more. The ratio between the bottom and top gear is exactly the same as the 10 speed, but with all those choices you can maintain your ideal cadence much easier (there’s also a lot of overlap between chainrings, but you get the idea).

    When GM first showed the Volt at the Detroit auto show(?) years ago, they said it was an all-electric drivetrain with batteries and a gasoline generator. I thought this would be ideal. Run the generator at peak efficiency (RPM) to charge the batteries while having the batteries available to handle peak power and store kinetic energy from braking. You could even use a super-efficient engine like a turbine for power since it would just be used for steady power needs.

    Also a question: What is the point of using a geared trany when CVTs exist? Are they much less efficient?

    • Hi Eric,

      CVTs have been a mixed bag; they are efficient – but they’re also noisy (relative to a conventional automatic) and many people simply don’t like their operating characteristics, especially the way they let the engine rev to very high RPMs and then hold the engine there (if you keep your foot in it) during acceleration.

      • eric, a friend had a Honda with a CVT over 20 years ago. Honda also had a new super efficient engine then that was brand new and had the CVT in mind when they built it. Seems like it was 2.0L. My friend stayed on the road and worked as an auditor for more than one company. He loved/hated that car. It was slow so he had one mode, WOT, but it got 58mpg which saved him a pile of money over the life of the car, something near 300,000 when he decided to make a change. He never regretted buying it. He drives an old Q-ship now and loves everything except the premium fuel it needs.

    • Less efficient, noisy, crude when cold and somewhat fragile.

      When they work well they are pretty cool though. I had a Mitsubishi Lancer rental car once that had a CVT. My god did it accelerate well but I was constantly aware of the transmision doing its work. It was not exactly refined.

  16. Thanks for the write up Eric.

    If these transmissions are similar as my 2007 Sentra, then during regular unhurried acceleration I could skip one or more gears as one gets up to cruising speed.

    On my Sentra 2.0S, I can go 1-2-4-6 as I get to 40+ mph.

    The two big negatives of the 10-speed transmission: cost and complexity.

    I guess this would encourage me to keep driving a manual transmission. While automatics are convenient and in some cases as good or better than a manual MPG-wise, I shudder to think at the cost to repair if something goes bad. My 1991 Camry cost about 2,000 FRN to fix in the late 1990′s and that was a 4-speed automatic.

    In addition to cost will be the ability to find a qualified person to fix the transmission if needed.

    (dom, when you get a chance please delete the other comment, I typed my email incorrectly. Thanks)

  17. Thanks for the write up Eric.

    If these transmissions are similar as my 2007 Sentra, then during regular unhurried acceleration I could skip one or more gears as one gets up to cruising speed.

    On my Sentra 2.0S, I can go 1-2-4-6 as I get to 40+ mph.

    The two big negatives of the 10-speed transmission: cost and complexity.

    I guess this would encourage me to keep driving a manual transmission. While automatics are convenient and in some cases as good or better than a manual MPG-wise, I shudder to think at the cost to repair if something goes bad. My 1991 Camry cost about 2,000 FRN to fix in the late 1990’s and that was a 4-speed automatic.

    In addition to cost will be the ability to find a qualified person to fix the transmission if needed.


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