Ford PowerShift Dual-Clutch Six-Speed Automatic Transmission: A Tranny For The Little Ones

Ford has promised an all six-speed transmission lineup by 2013. Today they've announced their baby tranny — the all-new dual-clutch PowerShift six speed for small cars. You know, like the Focus and...umm...stuff.

Before you roll your eyes and groan about another automatic transmission take note, this isn't your traditional automatic. Gone are the fluid pumps, transmission coolers, complex hydraulic control systems and clunky, slow shifts, in their place is an innovative twin dry clutch shifting system with computer control, lighter weight and huge efficiency gains.

The transmission is centered around two separately operating gear sets, each with their own dry clutch, which act together to transmit power to the wheels. One clutch transmits power for gears one, three and five while the other operates two, four and six, as acceleration or deceleration is required the gear set opposite the one engaged is preparing the next predicted gear, making shifts quick and power delivery seamless. The entire system does without the traditional messy hydraulic control and actuation system in favor of electromechanical actuation and a dry transmission case, sealed for life and maintenance free.

Since this transmission looks more like a self shifting manual transmission than an old and busted automatic, it has a different set of idiosyncrasies. Take for instance the problem of roll back on a hill — with a normal automatic, the transmission provides forward thrust even at rest, and all you do is pull away from an inclined stop, but in a manual transmission car if you stop on a hill you have to manage the stop and start procedure with the brakes. With the PowerShift, this is also the case, but that's managed automatically here with electronic nannies that monitor for such things as hills and control the brakes for you, providing seamless operation.

A neat trick which comes from using clutches instead of a pump in a torque converter is the ability to disengage the gears and coast, and the PowerShift can do that too. Tap the brakes and coast and you do so in "neutral" without drawing engine power and thus improving efficiency. Speaking of efficiency, all this fancy gadgetry does return some impressive numbers — the new PowerShift provides fuel efficiency improvements as high as 9% over current transmissions, and without all the messy bits of a normal automatic in place, the new transmission is almost 30 lbs lighter than the unit in the current Ford Focus. And that's just where it will make its home, in Ford's small car lineup, how far up the line it will go we're not sure yet, but expect it to have a long life and make it into the next generation Focus as well as cars like the Fiesta and maybe even the Transit Connect (we can only hope). Press release follows below:

FORD TO INTRODUCE FUEL-EFFICIENT DUAL-CLUTCH POWERSHIFT TRANSMISSION IN NORTH AMERICA IN 2010

DETROIT, Jan. 21, 2009 – Ford Motor Company announced today it will introduce an advanced dual-clutch PowerShift six-speed transmission in North America in 2010 for the small-car segment.

PowerShift will deliver the fuel efficiency of a manual gearbox with the convenience and ease of a premium automatic transmission – making it a key enabling technology as Ford targets best-in-class or among-the-best fuel economy with every new vehicle it introduces in North America.

“PowerShift represents a true competitive advantage for Ford and is one of the many technologies that will help our global small-car platforms set a new world standard for efficiency and drive quality,” said Barb Samardzich, vice president, Global Powertrain Engineering, who announced PowerShift’s production timing at the 2009 Automotive News World Congress. “This advanced six-speed is an improvement over today’s automatic transmissions in terms of fuel economy, while providing customers an even more fun-to-drive experience.”

Overall, Ford has committed that almost 100 percent of its transmissions will be advanced six-speed gearboxes by 2013. Six-speed transmissions already have helped vehicles such as the 2010 Ford Fusion achieve best-in-class fuel economy, while at the same time allowing the Ford Flex and Ford Escape to achieve unsurpassed fuel economy in their respective segments.

Ford is leveraging six-speed transmissions, advanced internal combustion engines such as EcoBoost, hybrids, full electric vehicles, vehicle weight reduction and electric power-assisted steering to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions fleet-wide by 30 percent by 2020.

Automatic Comfort
Compared to traditional automatic four-speed transmissions, PowerShift can help reduce fuel consumption by up to 9 percent depending on the application.

PowerShift provides the full comfort of an automatic with a more sophisticated driving dynamic, thanks to uninterrupted torque from the dual-clutch technology, which consists essentially of two manual transmissions working in parallel, each with its own independent clutch unit. One clutch carries the uneven gears – 1, 3 and 5 – while the other the even gears – 2, 4 and 6. Subsequent gear changes are coordinated between both clutches as they engage and disengage for a seamless delivery of torque to the wheels.

In Europe, Ford currently offers a PowerShift transmission in the Ford Focus. This PowerShift uses a twin wet-clutch system to handle the higher torque levels of the 2.0-liter TDCI engine available in the Focus.

In North America, a dry-clutch derivative of Ford’s PowerShift transmission will be used for added efficiency and durability. A dry clutch transmits power and torque through manual transmission clutch facings, while most automatic transmissions utilize wet clutch plates submerged in oil. As a result, the dry-clutch PowerShift transmission does not require an oil pump or torque converter, providing superior mechanical efficiency.

“A dry clutch is a real sweet spot for lighter vehicle applications,” said Piero Aversa, manager, Ford Automatic Transmission Engineering. “PowerShift is more efficient, it saves weight, is more durable, more efficient and the unit is sealed for life, requiring no regular maintenance.”

PowerShift, unlike conventional automatic transmissions, does not need the heavier torque converter or planetary gears. In addition, the dry-clutch derivative eliminates the need for the weighty pumps, hydraulic fluids, cooling lines and external coolers that wet clutch transmissions require. As a result, the dry-clutch PowerShift transmission can weigh nearly 30 pounds less than, for example, the four-speed automatic transmission featured on today’s Ford Focus.

Differentiating PowerShift even further in terms of its customer appeal is its shift quality, launch feel and overall drive dynamic, which are all facilitated by an expert blend of Ford-exclusive electro-mechanical systems, software features, calibrations and controls. These unique driving features include:

• Neutral coast down – The clutches will disengage when the brakes are applied, improving coasting downshifts and clutch robustness as well as reducing parasitic losses for increased fuel economy.

• Precise clutch control in the form of a clutch slip to provide torsional damping of the engine vibration – This function improves noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) at low engine speeds and enables lower lugging limits for improved fuel economy.

• Low-speed driving or creep mode with integrated brake pressure – This function simulates the low-speed control drivers are accustomed to from an automatic transmission. The amount of rolling torque in Drive and Reverse is precisely controlled, gradually building as brake pressure is released.

• Hill mode or launch assist – Prevents a vehicle from rolling back on a grade by maintaining brake pressure until the engine delivers enough torque to move the vehicle up the hill, providing improved driver confidence, comfort, safety and clutch robustness.

Some of you might wonder why Bear Holding Shark made a cameo appearance in this post. Well, Ford provided this press release under embargo at around 7:20 PM Tuesday without pictures of the transmission in question and we got tired sometime around ten o'clock. Since we didn't have pictures yet — well — Bear Holding Shark.