Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

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Advancements in transmission technology helping to improve performance and fuel efficiency

Published Saturday September 13, 2014

I recently visited Germany for Audi dealer meetings, where I got a chance to view and discuss cutting-edge technologies and developments that are in the works.

     For me, meeting the manufacturers is always an instructive and enlightening experience. It allows me to view products, accessories and technologies on the drawing board that will be rolled out in 5 to 10 years.

     As a dealer principal, it's important to know the long-range vision of the manufacturers, a vision that I share with my team members and allows us to plan for the future.

     All auto manufacturers are long-range planners. Each has dedicated individuals on staff who spend most of their time figuring out the anticipated buying needs and expectations of customers a decade or so from now.

     On this last visit to Germany, I learned about Audi's new 10-speed DGS transmission (it's no secret) that will be introduced in the near future.

     Audi currently produces 6-speed, 7-speed and 8-speed DGS transmissions - the new 10-speed version will offer better fuel efficiency and greater torque loads.

     This 10-speed transmission is a far cry from transmissions available in the 1970s and earlier, when the only two formats were available: standard and automatic.

     A transmission is one of those built-in components that many car owners don't think much about when they're shopping for a car, or when they're driving. But, just as engines, tires, exhaust systems, electronics and safety features have improved in recent decades, so too have transmissions.

     The first mass produced automobiles operated with standard transmissions. In 1921, the first automatic transmission was invented by a Canadian steam engineer, Alfred Horner Munro. Munro's invention was never sold commercially.

     General Motors is credited with developing the first automatic transmission for commercial use in the 1930s, and the 1948 Oldsmobile was the first passenger car equipped with automatic transmission.

     These days, electronically-controlled transmissions are available in a variety of formats to assist in multiple driving scenarios. Today's automatic transmissions have up to eight gears, which help to achieve greater performance and fuel efficiency.

      The semi-automatic is the most popular transmission type for passenger vehicles in North America and is used in everything from minivans to sports coupes. Semi-automatic manages all gear changes for the driver or allows the driver to shift manually with a gear lever or shift paddles.

     The continuously variable transmission (CVT), which was conceptualized by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490, has been in use since the 1980s. A CVT has no traditional gears but uses a belt or chain to accommodate an infinite number of gear changes and gear ratios, allowing the engine to run more efficiently for longer periods.

     The DSG (direct-shift gearbox) transmission, which I mentioned earlier, uses a dual clutch system comprised of two variable diameter pulleys - one connected to the engine, the other to the drive wheels. This pulley system allows an unlimited variability between high and low gears, without any actual gear shifts taking place.

     DSG transmissions deliver more power and improved control than a regular automatic transmission, and performs faster than a manual transmission.

     One of the recent developments in transmissions has been in electric vehicles. Most manufacturers have shied away from traditional multi-speed transmissions and opted for simpler, single-speed or constant velocity transmissions.

     But as electric vehicles evolve and become more powerful, manufacturers are starting to explore multi-speed transmission options for those vehicles.

     The different types of transmission available today vary, and consumers may find the technical details a bit bewildering. But knowing something about transmissions should be part of the decision making process when choosing a vehicle.

     My recommendation is to research the various transmission options on your short list of vehicles. Vehicle performance, fuel economy, acceleration, power, and maintenance and/or repair costs are among the considerations when choosing a transmission.

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