This past week I spent a few days on a press trip with ZF, a German company that specializes in transmissions, precision steering, and suspensions (among other things automotive and marine). You might recognize the ZF name from their longtime alignment with BMW or you might recognize them as the designers and manufacturers of the automotive market's premier 8 speed automatic RWD transmission that is found on a variety of vehicles from the Audi A8, to the Ram 1500, to the Bentley Continental, to the Chrysler 300.
ZF brought a number of us down to Greenville, South Carolina to show off their newest innovation in automatic transmissions and to show off where these new transmissions will be built. The next buzz word in fuel economy and changing gears will be the number 9. Yes. ZF is producing the world's first 9 speed automatic FWD/AWD transmission.
This transmission will make it's public debut on two new vehicles, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee the 2014 Land Rover Evoque that will be hitting the streets by the end of the year. The transmission itself is an astounding engineering feat that is so complex (on many levels) and so simple (on so many levels) that it makes my head spin. It's application within the drivetrain is seamless. The 9 speed allows for effortless shifting and is quiet and smooth through all applications of mundane/normal driving all the way through to spirited/performance driving.
I appreciate the brilliance of thoughtful engineering so as to create a better driving/owning/performance experience for the automotive customer but what caught my eye is how amazing ZF's transmissions look and feel. It's an incredibly compact casing with an astounding number of moving parts. These transmissions are just a small precise part of the larger machine but they take some of the largest physical beatings handed out by the engine. And when taken out of context, these transmissions look like science fiction landscapes. All of the images below are of a few different transmissions that have been cut away to show the inner workings of clutches, torque converters, gears, valves, drive shafts, and everything else that is involved in an 8 speed, 9 speed, and hybrid transmission. It's metal. Lots and lots of heavy, gaping toothed, and sliced metal.
Consider this your Machinist Porn for the year. Enjoy.