DETROIT (Jan. 12, 2011) — Chrysler Group L.L.C. plans to equip its minivans with nine-speed automatic transmissions starting in 2013 in a bid to boost fuel mileage dramatically.
Using a nine-speed transmission would improve fuel economy by double digits, according to Michael Paul, a board member with ZF Friedrichshafen A.G., the supplier of the unit to Chrysler.
“This will be a major step for front-wheel drive cars in terms of fuel economy,” he said at a press conference at the 2011 North American International Auto Show, which is underway in Detroit.
However, he added that conventional automatic transmissions may be approaching the upper limits of fuel economy improvements to be achieved by adding more gears.
“To be honest, we don´t think there is very much to be gained by adding even more gears,” he said. To improve fuel economy further, auto makers and suppliers might have to develop other types of transmissions.
The announcement offers more evidence that Chrysler wants to leapfrog its mass-market rivals, rather than simply match the industry's adoption of six-speed automatics.
Last summer, Chrysler said it would use ZF's eight-speed automatic in its rear-wheel drive cars. The eight-speed is expected to improve fuel economy by 25 percent over a standard five-speed automatic.
The German supplier will produce the transmission at its plant in Greenville, S.C., Mr. Paul said.