An 11-Speed Transmission on the Way? Why More Gears Matter

November 17th, 2016 by

Over the last few decades, the number of gears on the transmissions of new cars has increased drastically. In the recent past, the higher number of gears available was typically three or four, but now many vehicles have at least five or six gears. Luxury and performance-based vehicles often have eight speeds. Honda recently received a patent for a new 11-speed transmission that would have three clutches to operate. Many drivers don’t know exactly what the gears do and what the effects are of having so many gears.

Transmission Overview
The purpose of a transmission is to provide power to the wheels at the proper rate based on the speed you are driving. It starts in a low gear to allow the vehicle to get going, then it shifts into higher gears to accommodate for the wheels moving faster at higher rates of speed. When you have a manual transmission, it’s up to you to shift to the proper gear, while an automatic handles the process for you. Within an automatic transmission, you’ll find a torque converter that senses the changes that occur during acceleration, automatically shifting to the next higher gear.

Benefits of More Gears
According to the chief engineer of Transmissions at Ford Motor Company, additional gears offer more spread across the gears that powertrain engineers want and need to create better, more efficient vehicles. When a transmission has a higher number of gears, the vehicle can accelerate faster in the lower gears while conserving fuel and reducing emissions in the higher ones. Another benefit is that engineers can put compact and economical engines within bigger vehicles to reduce fuel consumption and improve efficiency, since the wider spread of gears ensures that the car will maintain its performance.

A Look at the History of Transmissions
The addition of high-gear transmissions is coming into the market as the result of years of research and testing. In the past, engineers were using transmission prototypes that were heavy and sluggish, so adding more gears was actually slowing down the shifting process and decreasing efficiency. But now automotive manufacturers are finding ways to get rid of that drag on the clutch, allowing them to produce six-speed and eight-speed transmissions that can reduce fuel usage dramatically.

Honda’s 11-Speed Transmission
The information in the patent on Honda’s 11-speed transmission will use three clutches to operate and shift between the gears. The industry standard for a transmission with this many gears is two clutches, so the addition of a third is generating a lot of interest in the new unit. The third clutch may allow the transmission to skip certain gears when shifting, which could mean that the driver will no longer lose power when manually changing gears. Interestingly, some auto blogs report that the wide spread of gears in the 11-speed could produce ratios that are very similar to those produced by a continuously variable transmission.

Until the new transmission comes out, it’s hard to know for sure what it will look like or how it will function, but the 11-speed is certainly generating some buzz.

Posted in Automobile Tips