The often overlooked transmission is proving to be a secret weapon for Ford Motor Company in the quest for improved fuel economy.
"Transmission technology is playing a key role in bringing down fuel consumption," said Craig Renneker, chief engineer for new automatic transmissions for Ford Powertrain Operations. "That's why Ford is rolling out an industry-leading array of fuel-efficient, six-speed automatic transmissions on more than half of the North American product lineup, including the new 2009 Ford F-150."
And there is more to come. Later this year, Ford will begin producing a new fuel-saving, front-wheel drive six-speed transmission for use first in the 2009 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner, which go on sale this summer.
Hybrids, fuel cells and advanced internal combustion engines will remain at the forefront this week when more than 35,000 automotive engineers gather in Detroit for the 2008 SAE World Congress. But the role of advanced transmissions also will be highlighted in panel discussions and technical papers at the annual conference.
New transmission technologies are a key part of Ford's strategy to deliver sustainable, quality vehicles that customers want and value. The new transmissions deliver 4 to 6 percent improvement in fuel efficiency on average compared with typical four- and five-speed gearboxes.
"Ford is on the cutting edge of advanced transmission technology," Renneker said. "We've introduced an array of advanced transmission from multispeed automatics to CVTs, but we're not used to making headlines. Our objective is for the transmission to be invisible to the customer with its performance and smoothness, so I guess we tend to fade into the background."
However, Renneker and his gearbox experts have much to talk about, particularly the highly sophisticated six-speed automatic transmissions in North America and a new dual-clutch transmission called Powershift, which is already delivering diesel fuel economy improvements of 10 percent to the Focus in Europe. Powershift also is planned for future vehicles in North America.
"These new technologies are all about fuel economy," Renneker said. "Particularly, here with the six-speed autos, we're delivering a wide ratio span that provides a high top gear for fuel-efficient cruising while delivering good launch feel for lower displacement engines. This technology will mate perfectly with the new Ford EcoBoost engines that are on the way."
The significant advancements in automatic transmission technology mean that more drivers in North America will reap the fuel economy benefits traditionally enjoyed by vehicle owners with manual transmissions.
Philip Yuhasz, director of transmission and driveline engineering at Ford, will be speaking on a panel on the role of transmissions of the future on consumer buying decisions at the 2008 SAE World Congress. Yuhasz's presentation highlights the differences in customer preferences between the United States and Europe. Yuhasz will also share his insight into the role of different government regulations and testing regimes for driving manufacturers to develop different technologies for regional needs.