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Auto Trends 2017 & Beyond

Focus on 10-Speed Transmissions, Surround-View Cameras & Predictive-Maintenance Alerts

Four manufacturers say 10-speed automatic transmissions will help models to save gas. Meanwhile, surround-view cameras give you a view of obstacles that are around your vehicle, and some vehicles now monitor your driving to alert you when maintenance is required.

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Three trends in the automobile industry will continue fuel-efficiency and safety gains and should reduce the cost of a vehicle’s maintenance.
In the next 6 months, four manufacturers will introduce 10-speed automatic transmissions, which they say will boost fuel economy. Meanwhile, 11 automakers developed surround-view, or 360-degree, camera systems that give you a panoramic view of your vehicle’s exterior as you back into a parking space. Finally, experts say the maintenance-schedule charts that you find in your owner’s manual ultimately will be replaced by vehicle systems that send you an alert when it’s time to bring your ride in for a tuneup and upkeep.

CHANGING GEARS. The term “10-speed” once referred to top-of-the-line bicycles that delivered 10 gear ratios that allowed hard-pumping bicyclists to challenge steep hills, cruise serenely on flat pavement, and handle every kind of incline and decline that they encounter.

Ten-speed bicycles are passé today, long since surpassed by bicycles that include at least 20 speeds. However, “10-speed” is back in vogue, because in the next 6 months, Ford Motor, General Motors, Honda Motors and Toyota Motor will introduce 10-speed automatic transmissions that, like multispeed bicycles, will let vehicles operate most efficiently.

Manufacturers say the general idea is to replace six- and eight-speed automatic transmissions with better-performing transmissions that boost fuel economy. In other words, manufacturers are adding overdrive gears to help big engines to squeeze more miles per gallon out of them to help to meet corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. No mileage ratings were available as of press time, but Honda says it expects its 10-speed transmission to boost fuel economy by 6 percent on its V6 engines.

“We’re always looking to eke out more miles per gallon,” says Jim Borgersen, who is the assistant chief engineer on a joint project between Ford and GM to design a 10-speed transmission.

You won’t notice the extra gears during city driving, but after you hit the highway, you might notice that your engine changes gears more quickly.

“If you’re driving at 60 and you floor it, a 10-speed transmission has a lot more gears to choose from to quickly shift and sharply accelerate,” says John McCormick, who is an automotive journalist. “If you’re driving a six-speed, you might be stuck in fourth gear.”

Ford and GM jointly developed a 10-speed automatic transmission during the past 3 years for use in large, rear-wheel-drive cars and four-wheel-drive pickups. Ford’s and GM’s 10-speed transmissions are similar in most aspects but have slightly different clutch setups. GM claims that its 10-speed transmission will shift faster than does Porsche’s vaunted PDK gearbox, which is considered widely to be one of the fastest-shifting transmissions. Ford says its 10-speed transmission avoids the “clunk” that occurs frequently when a driver lets off the gas and then steps back on. Ford says the transmission is adept at using all 10 ratios to keep the engine running in its “sweet spot.”

“We take very seriously the lessons learned on our prior transmissions,” Borgersen says. “A lot of [other automakers] working on the 10-speed understand what we’ve had to go through on our six- and eight-speeds to get the shifts right.”

GM’s 10-speed transmission will be an option on the sporty 640-hp 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ($62,135), which is expected to be available by the end of 2016, says Tom Read of GM. By 2018, GM will “have about eight” vehicles that include a 10-speed transmission, Borgersen says. Borgersen says GM’s 10-speed transmission fits the company’s Chevrolet and GMC pickups, as well as Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet rear-wheel-drive cars. However, he wouldn’t tell us whether any of those will be among the “about eight” models that will include a 10-speed transmission by 2018. We expect that a 10-speed option will add roughly $2,500–$3,000 to a vehicle’s price.

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