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Who knew a new transmission could be so cool?

The transmission in your car is a complicated beast.  Your average transmission has 5 gears, and weighs about as much as you do.  It also accounts on average for about a 20% reduction in the amount of power sent from your engine to your wheels.  Part of this is simply the nature of anything mechanical; it takes power to turn the gears, so you’re never going to get all of it to the rubber.  But you can reduce this ratio.  A couple of  weeks ago, I talked a little bit about Nissan’s CVT’s.  They’re pretty great.  Now I’m going to tell you about something that’ll get put into a few more cars.

There’s a transmission manufacturer in Germany called ZF, and they make lots of transmissions.  They’re transmissions are in possibly every class of car on the road today.  And they’ve decided that they are going to make possibly one of the best transmissions ever designed to date, which they have.  The transmission is simply called the ZF-8 right now, and as you might guess, the 8 is for 8 gears.  Or more precisely, 8 gear ratios.

Allowing me to geek out for a minute, it’s got 4 planetary gear sets (if you don’t know what they are, just keep reading articles, ’cause I will invariably explain how they work at some point), and was designed to fit anywhere a standard 6 gear transmission would supply power to either the rear wheels, or all four.  It was designed with modularity in mind too; the auto manufacturer can not only choose which gear ratios are thrown into the mix, but can also opt for a wet-plate double clutch for those performance autos, or a 47hp electric motor.  And it weighs exactly the same as the 6 gear box it’s replacing, at 200lb.  And the best bit of all: it’s rated for over 700lb of torque, meaning there’s only 2 production cars in the world that could shred it’s metal teeth.  And unless you’re a robber baron, you can’t afford either of them.

What all this means though, is increased efficiency.  First, more gears means the car can stay in the optimal gear ratio for the drving you’re doing longer.  Second, with the electric motor on board, you can make the car a mild-hybrid, slashing fuel consumption by an additional 14% over the already nothing to laugh at 11% of the standard torque converter equipped variant.

You can expect the magnificent set of gears to start showing up in premium German cars first, but I wouldn’t be suprised if something very much like it ended up in everything from a Bentley (which it will be in), down to a Ford Fusion.

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