The next generation of GM pickup trucks will feature at least one 8-speed automatic transmission, the goal of course being to reduce fuel economy in order to meet federal fuel economy regulations, reports Automotive News.
By using more gears to make more efficient use of fuel, an eight-speed can boost efficiency by three to six percent, depending on the vehicle, says Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain forecasts at LMC Automotive in suburban Detroit.
That combined with other fuel-saving technologies, the next generation of trucks coming out in 2013/2014 could see 10-20 percent fuel economy improvements right away.
Of course, these fuel economy improvements don’t come without a cost. An 8-speed transmission, for example, can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of each vehicle depending on the cost of development and how that cost is amortized.
Industry analysts say that developing an all-new transmission costs $500 million to $1.5 billion dollars, which is why it’s a surprise to some automotive columnists to see Ford, Chrysler, and GM rushing an 8-speed to market in time for the 2014 model year.
Dodge Ram is adding an 8-speed automatic to their truck, but it will be based on an existing transmission developed by ZF Friedrichshafen AG. It introduced the gearbox on the 2012 flagship Chrysler 300 sedan and Dodge Charger. As a result, the costs will be quite a bit lower for Ram.
Last May, GM CEO Dan Akerson appeared at the Toledo plant to announce a $204 million investment for the production of a new eight-speed, but he wouldn’t say what vehicles would get the transmission. Eight- and nine-speed transmissions are among the tactics automakers are using to meet more stringent fuel economy standards.
V-8 engine versions of GM’s current full-sized pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, get 15 mpg in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway with six-speed trannies.
Spokespersons for Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. declined to comment on whether there are plans to add an eight-speed to their full-sized pickups, the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan, but that certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t working on one.
However, Toyota’s economics are a bit different than GM and Ford, according to Tundra Headquarters.
The federal fuel economy ratings apply to an automaker’s entire fleet. It’s an average rating you must meet across all trucks in your line-up.
With plans for a Scion pickup (based on the next-gen Rav4) and a new direct-injection engine in the Tacoma that should boost fuel economy, Toyota’s fleet is inherently more fuel efficient than fleets from Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Therefore, Toyota won’t have to improve the fuel economy of the Tundra as much to meet the federal regulation.
Toyota has a viable hybrid Tundra on the drawing board, likely ready for release in 2015/2016. This too will help Toyota meet the fuel economy goals without necessarily requiring them to invest in an 8-speed transmission.
The biggest hesitation with an 8- or 9-speed automatic is related to durability. Six-speed automatics are plenty complicated as it is, but the technology is mature enough to be considered reliable. Eight-speed automatics have never been done before, at least in a pickup in North America.
It should be noted that some medium duty trucks have more than 8 speeds, but they get there using a dual axle, so technically they’re not 8+ speed automatics.
Still, the fact is, marketing from Ford, GM, and Ram is going to harp on the fact that more speeds are better like Toyota did when the Tundra debuted in 2007 with a 6 speed and some manufacturers—GM and Chrysler—were still using 5 speeds.
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