Eight-speed, ten-speed; it wasn’t long ago that these were gears primarily found in mountain bikes. In the automotive industry, we’re reaching these levels with automatic transmissions though. While just a few years ago most cars had four- and five-speed units, a gear arms race has been started with the goal of improving fuel economy at the heart.
More gears means more ratios, some which can be ultra efficient ones for highway cruising and the like. It is part of the reason a lot of today’s cars idle at much lower levels once at speed on the highway. Producing automatics with a lot of gears began at the upper strata of the market, but it is spreading downmarket quickly. Want proof? Today, Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne announced the new 2013 Dodge Dart would be offered with a nine-speed (!) auto.
Yes, you read that right. The tranny will be a new unit sourced by ZF and built at a factory in South Carolina. Rather than develop its own unit, Chrysler chose to partner with ZF.
The Dart won’t debut with the nine-speed though, but rather a six-speed dual-clutch unit from Fiat. The nine-speed should help the Dart achieve a fuel economy rating of over 40 mpg. Producing a 40 mpg car is highly important for Fiat. The U.S government is hinging a remaining 5 percent of Chrysler shares on a U.S-built car with a 40 mpg rating or higher. Pretty interesting, and that gives an added impetus for the Dart to arrive. The addition of 5 percent will take Fiat’s ownership in Chrysler to 58.5 percent, with the rest held by a UAW retirees fund.
Recently we heard about the Fiat MultiAir engine that was going to be used in the Dart, but Automotive News has shed some light on the rest of the engine lineup. The Dart will get 2.0 and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines that Dodge has curiously branded “Tigershark.” Are they going to use that in marketing materials? We certainly hope not…..