ZF Friedrichshafen, one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, will introduce an eight-speed automatic transmission for commercial vehicles in 2020.
The new Powerline automatic transmission is designed for Class 5-8 trucks rated up to 57,000 pounds. The new unit is lighter, quieter and offers better performance than typical six-speed transmissions currently on the market, according to ZF.
The company made the transmission available for test drives in a 2015 Ram 3500 pickup at the Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis. The truck held a 3,000-pound water tank in the bed and smoothly motored along a road surrounding the raceway.
“We are bringing a very successful product from passenger cars to commercial vehicles,” said Christian Feldhaus, senior project manager of driveline technology at ZF.
The new transmission is based on the eight-speed automatic transmission, called 8HP, currently equipped in production cars from the Dodge Challenger Hellcat to the Lamborghini Urus and Ram 1500 pickup. The 8HP can be found in models across the Audi and BMW lineups as well.
ZF has built more than 15 million units of the 8HP since its introduction in 2008, Feldhaus said.
The new Powerline transmission, codenamed 8AP, is intended for buses, RVs, heavy-duty pickup trucks and medium-duty commercial vehicles. Current vehicles in this segment, such as the Chevrolet Silverado 4500-6500HD, typically have six-speed units from companies like Allison Transmission.
The advantage of the eight-speed automatic transmission compared with a six-speed is better fuel efficiency. It also reduces torque interruption between shifts, a frequent problem in commercial vehicles that use an automated manual transmission, ZF said.
The Powerline weighs 330 pounds, about the same as an Allison 2000 transmission for light-duty commercial vehicles, Feldhouse said. However, the Powerline offers the capability of a medium-duty Allison 3000 transmission. The Powerline can be fitted to engines that produce up to 1,000 pound-feet of torque.
The Ram 3500 equipped with the Powerline transmission totaled about 11,000 pounds, including its payload, said Christopher Ross, product development manager for North America at ZF. The company has so far tested the transmission up to a gross vehicle weight of 31,000 pounds using a gooseneck trailer, Ross said.
On the road surrounding Lucas Oil Raceway, the truck easily powered up to 50 mph and settled into higher gears for increased efficiency. Shifts are noticeable but smooth for a heavy-duty pickup. Digging into the gas pedal causes the transmission to quickly drop several gears and apply the desired torque.
The transmission in the Ram is an early version of the company’s “B sample” iteration of the Powerline, Ross said. ZF will continue to produce B samples for testing before advancing to the “C sample” for production in 2020.
Engineers used lightweight materials and advanced software in the Powerline to reduce wear, improve driver comfort and increase fuel efficiency. The Powerline is up to 10 percent more efficient, produces up to 30 percent less noise and delivers up to 30 percent better acceleration compared with a conventional six-speed automatic, the company said.
Fuel-saving techniques designed for commercial vehicles include a “sailing” feature, which automatically places the transmission into neutral during a steep downgrade. There is also stop-start technology that puts the Powerline into neutral if the vehicle stops at a stoplight for several seconds.
It also features dual power take off, or PTO, units that can supply up to 485 pound-feet of torque for external tools or machinery — a common necessity for commercial vehicles. The Powerline will be available with an optional integrated oil cooler, executives said.
ZF is also preparing the Powerline with an eye toward emissions-free trucks. The transmission will be “hybrid-ready” upon production, with a future version compatible with electric drive, Feldhaus said.