Carmakers Push Toward Eight-Speed Transmissions

One of the least often heard, but most compelling rumors of the past year has been Toyota's development of an eight-speed transmission for its Lexus models. It seems insane. One minute we're in high school, trying to un-jam (with a sledgehammer) the three-speed manual linkage on our ex-fleet 1973 Buick Century, the next we're cruising along in a Maserati, six-speed robotic manual churning away like a coal shoveler on the steamboat Robert E. Lee. Next, we'll be cruising the interstate in some V8-powered Lexus, in some ungodly gear 8, watching our gas-gauge needle stay put, mile on mile. Is it good thing?

The Detroit News offers a quick profile on automakers' efforts to add additional tranny gears, which is becoming a competitive struggle of big-block proportion. Next model year, Mercedes will offer the company's new 7-TRONIC system, and VW already offers a six-speed automatic on its 2006 Jetta. Even slowpoke GM has entered a partnership with Ford to (finally) develop a six-speed autobox, of which the company expects to sell three million per year by 2008. Of course, we should be happy mechanical engineers' degrees aren't going to waste, considering such multigear slushboxes, with the help of today's sophisticated control software, continue to wring better fuel efficiency out of the most powerful engines.

Gear wars: The race for an eight-speed car [The Detroit News]