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How much Chrysler is in those transmissions?

by David Zatz on

Chrysler both buys and builds ZF eight-speed transmissions, and makes ZF-based nine-speeds. While sources have said there were many  differences between the Chrysler-built and ZF-built transmissions, the reason for making changes was unclear — until we spoke with Mike Kirk, Chrysler’s director of axle, driveline, and manual transmissions. He told us that there were two major issues.


Chrysler’s tooling, robotics, and methods are very different from those used by ZF, so engineers went through the transmissions’ design to work within the Kokomo plant’s methods and equipment. In addition, Chrysler has far higher production needs; design choices that make sense for luxury-car production are often inappropriate for making hundreds of thousands transmissions per year (analysts have predicted that Chrysler will end up making 1.4 million ZF-based automatics per year).

Old-timers may recall that Chrysler had to redesign its V8 engines back in the 1950s to make them practical for use in the high-volume Plymouths; for more detail and insight into this problem, one can also look at Chrysler’s production of Bofors guns for the military.

Mr. Kirk said that the partnership with ZF is mutually productive and respectful. Chrysler owns the intellectual property of any changes they make, and can patent their changes and methods, including the software and controls; though they do share their discoveries with ZF. Improving on the transmissions, in both mechanical and software controls, provides some balance with ZF.  As for the quality of the transmissions made by Chrysler — both ZF and Chrysler use the same end-of-line test centers, driven by the same software.

The transmissions have been noted for their extremely wide range of gears, gear ratio selections, and exceedingly fast and smooth shifting. Numerous steps were taken to cut weight and friction, increasing efficiency.

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