Are We Done Adding Gears to Transmissions?
Image credit: Illustration by Moron Eel - Car and Driver
From the car and driver
The October issue contains our annual function with 20 questions. You will find these and 19 other questions and answers there.
Draw a graph of the average number of gear ratios available in the market per year and you will get a gently sloping slope that suddenly hooks into the sky. The Ford Model T had two, and it took decades for three or four-speed transmissions to become widespread. But at the beginning of the 21st century we saw the average shot being the order of the day as six-, seven- and then eight-speed cars. More recently, Ford and GM have raised the bar to 10 with their jointly developed longitudinal box.
These modern transmissions are complex technical parts that allow significant efficiency gains, especially when combined with turbo engines with ample low torque. Despite Honda's patent for an 11-speed triple-clutch automatic transmission, we are quickly approaching the top gearbox. This is because an increase in speed also increases the friction and rotating mass to such an extent that returns decrease, but also because of the increasing spread of hybrid systems. Electric motors can add torque to those parts of the speed range where an internal combustion engine may leave the driver unsatisfied, speeding up responses, and covering the perceived gaps in a vehicle's transmission. "You just don't need that many gear ratios to do the same job," Andy Palmer, former Aston Martin boss and former transmission technician, told us recently. "If you keep adding ratios, you'll get to the point where you might as well just make a CVT." And nobody wants that.
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