- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are working together on a new six-speed transmission program. Two of the world’s largest automakers have announced a $720 million investment to build a fuel-saving, six-speed, front-wheel-drive (FWD) automatic transmission.

The automakers were independently developing six-speed automatic transmissions when GM approached Ford with the joint-venture idea. Each company spends hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions, developing transmissions separately. By joining forces on this project, GM will spend $350 million and Ford will spend a reported $370 million respectively.

The investments include new equipment, tooling and facilities upgrades at their plants. GM’s Warren, Mich., plant will build major components and assemble GM six-speeds. Ford’s Van Dyke plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. and its plant in Sharonville, Ohio, will turn out the Ford transmissions.

According to David T. Szczupak, vice president, Ford Powertrain Operations, “Six-speeds are the future.

“They help to optimize power, smooth operation and improve fuel economy.” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, the average American was driving a car with a three-speed automatic, so this is a trend worth noting.”

The new six-speed transmission is expected to offer an estimated 4 percent to 8 percent improvement in fuel economy over traditional four-speed automatic transmissions available in today’s front-wheel-drive cars. Production is scheduled to begin at both companies in 2006 for FWD and all-wheel-drive passenger cars and sport utility vehicles.

Working together allows both companies to bring the transmission to market faster, while cutting costs.

Each company is responsible for integrating the transmission into its own vehicles.

The powertrains will be distinctive in both feel and performance because the transmissions will be matched to different engines.

“Ford and GM may be traditional competitors, but we share common goals of satisfying customers, improving fuel economy and reducing costs,” said Thomas G. Stephens, group vice president for General Motors Powertrain. “We believe partnering together on this program will provide significant benefits to our companies and our customers.”

Production volumes are expected to be in the “hundreds of thousands” of transmissions annually, Mr. Stephens said. Some analysts say production could easily reach 2 million units a year. Because the entire automotive industry is going to six-speed automatic transmissions, it makes sense to see two formidable competitors working together for the betterment of their products and their customers.

Ford has plans to introduce its 6F six-speed transmissions in the 2007 Ford Edge and the Lincoln Aviator.

These two new crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) will lead the way for that manufacturer to incorporate this fuel-efficient transaxle into its vast product portfolio.

It is estimated that Ford eventually will offer more than 24 nameplates with six-speeds.

General Motors will roll out its version of this gearbox in the 2007 Saturn Aura.

This sporty midsize sedan will feature the new powertrain component, mated to a 3.6-liter V-6 engine.

General Motors ultimately will offer six-speeds in dozens of vehicle applications.

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