In brief: Ford Motor Co has announced that vehicles equipped with its new 6-speed automated-manual PowerShift transmission will see fuel economy boosts of nearly 10% relative to the more common 4-speed automatic trans.
The new PowerShift transmission was debuted last year in the Fiesta and is now being pushed in the 2012 Focus model. Ford will be using the new transmission in its entire lineup by 2015.
Most of the transmission's efficiencies are gained through smaller mass (less weight), computer-controlled shifting, and a narrower range of gears. Six gears means smaller RPM ranges per gear, which allows for higher efficiency in the drive line.
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The "automated manual" in the technology name for this transmission refers to the lack of a torque converter to trigger the shifting, as is present in most automatic transmissions. Instead, the PowerShift uses a pair of dry clutches, each linked to an electromechanically shifted manual transmission. Everything resides in one, compact tranny case and is controlled by a computer.
The result is generally smoother shifting than with other automatic transmissions and is the culmination of years of development in higher-end performance vehicles - finally trickling down to everyday cars.
Other manufacturers are working with similar technologies in their transmissions to see improvements in economy. Many vehicles in the next few years will be featuring transmissions with larger numbers of gears (the optimum currently appears to be 6 to 8, depending on vehicle size).
The PowerShift is credited with pushing the 2012 Ford Focus with breaking the 40mpg barrier (highway) without sacrificing size or going to a hybrid power train.
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Technologies like those found in the PowerShift are the future of combustion vehicles as MPG ratings become the focus of new vehicles.
Photo credits: Ford