GM plans 10 models with 9-speed transmission by ’17

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. plans to introduce 10 models with its new 9-speed transmission by the end of 2017, including four for its Chevrolet brand.

The Detroit-based automaker is touting the transmission, which was co-developed with crosstown rival Ford Motor Co., as a solution to increase fuel economy up to 2 percent and enhance performance over the 6-speed transmission it is based on.

For Chevrolet, the transmission debuted on the top-line 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier with 2.0-liter turbo engine, followed next year by the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze diesel with the 1.6-liter diesel engine and 2018 Chevrolet Equinox with available 2.0-liter turbo.

“This product is not aimed at niche vehicles,” said Chris Meagher, executive director of transmission and electrification hardware engineering. “It’s a high-volume plan.”

The 2017 Malibu with the new transmission starts at about $32,000 — $10,000 more than the standard L model with 1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine with direct injection. The transmission contributes to an EPA-estimated 33 mpg highway — a 3-percent increase over the 2016 model with the 6-speed automatic.

GM declined to disclose what models outside of Chevrolet will feature the new transmission. But GM confirmed it is compatible on other vehicles with the same platforms of the three announced vehicles. Meagher said a fourth Chevrolet vehicle with the transmission will “be announced very soon.”

The transmission can skip gears based on need. GM particularly touted the company’s first application of a selectable one-way clutch that helps hold torque levels and reduce space.

“It’s a big enabler for the transmission to be what it is,” said Scott Kline, assistant chief engineer of the transmission program. “This transmission shifts very smoothly, very precisely.”

The transmission also can be used with stop/start systems, which shut off engines to save fuel when a vehicle is stopped.

Automakers have been shifting to transmissions with increasing numbers of gears as a play to meet stricter federal fuel economy regulations.

Ford and GM announced a joint venture to develop 9- and 10-speed transmissions in 2013. The companies developed the 9-speed primarily for front-wheel-drive vehicles. The 10-speed is expected to be used in trucks and other rear-wheel drive vehicles.

“By both companies being involved — both of us shared — therefore we got two for the time and expense of one,” Meagher said.

Ford debuted the 10-speed transmission on the 2017 F-150 pickup; GM introduced it on the 2017 Camaro ZL1 sports car.

While 9- and 10-speed transmissions can help fuel economy and performance, tuning can be extremely difficult — particularly with the amount of different driving modes featured on new vehicles. Some automakers such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV have had trouble in recent years with the advanced transmissions.

FCA debuted the industry’s first 9-speed on the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The complex component was designed by German auto supplier ZF. A number of software-related problems related to shifting and other functions delayed the vehicle’s launch and have been reported since then — particularly when paired with the automaker’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder Tigershark engine.

(313) 222-2504

Twitter: @MikeWayland