Ford and GM Join Forces
Despite being direct industry competitors, Ford and GM began drawing up plans for a joint development project in 2013 to build a production 10-speed automatic transmission. This would replace the previous generation 6-speed (and GM's 8-speed) in a variety of vehicles, but primarily rear wheel and all wheel drive trucks and sport utility vehicles with longitudinally mounted engines. Additionally, it would be designed alongside a 9-speed automatic designed for front wheel drive vehicles with transversely mounted engines. GM and Ford agreed to keep the software side of things independent, despite utilizing the same hardware: Ford and GM vehicle computers will handle the functionality and usability features differently.
For Ford, the first vehicle released with the new transmission would be the 2017 F-150 Raptor, a high performance variant of the iconic F-150 truck, equipped with the 3.5L Ecoboost V-6 twin turbocharged engine and a number of performance enhancments when compared to the standard F-150 Ecoboost. With 10 gears, power can be accessed more readily and the internal computer can provide finer adjustments to achieve maximum fuel economy along with powerful, yet smoother, acceleration, which can be especially important for towing applications. This transmission is now being rolled out to the 2017 F-150 Ecoboosts, 2018 Mustangs, and other upcoming vehicles in the pipeline.
Ford's new transmission is groundbreaking in many areas.
Technical Details and Improvements
It was important to design the transmission to be a similar size and weight to the previous generation automatics. This is not only an advantage in terms of performance, but also eliminates heavy redesigning of the internal structure of vehicles already in production which would be upgraded to the 10-speed gearbox in the future. Furthermore, GM and Ford agreed to limit components to a shared set of suppliers, with the intention of improving economies of scale — essentially, more commonly manufactured components across the transmission models so that both building and maintaining them will be less expensive.
The 10-speed integrates some cutting edge technology such as an integrated shift-by-wire system, a thermal bypass to achieve peak operating temperature more quickly from a cold start, and a torque limit for certain models as high as ~1000 lb-ft. Ford's production version of the transmission for the F-150s and Raptors, internally designated as "10R80," has a lower torque limit right around 590 lb-ft, while the Super Duty vehicles have access to the higher strength version. It was important to the designers to have gear ratios that see usage in real world situations — unlike some other 6+ gear automatics where the average user may never see the top gear (or gears), the 10R80 was designed to be in 10th gear at normal highway speeds. Equipped with three overdrive gears, it is designed to shift into 8th or 9th to make a pass, while retaining good fuel economy. This, along with other improvements such as lighter weight clutch mechanisms, results in a fuel economy improvement of 3-4% when compared with the previous 6-speed automatic, a conservative estimate when compared to the (probably unrealistic) claims of other 7+ gear transmission makers. The increase in gear ratios available also means smaller steps when accelerating, reducing jerkiness and low rpm struggling when towing or climbing grades. Driveline lash is also reduced, an issue that plagued many GM trucks. This also benefits rapid acceleration, with the 2017 F-150 Ecoboost 3.5L making the 0-60mph run in about 6.0 seconds*, compared to the 2015's 6.5 seconds* despite having nearly the same power engines and chassis weight.
First and top gear ratios are similar compared to previous automatics, but the 10 speeds allow much closer gear ratios than would otherwise be possible.
The 2017 Raptor is the first to benefit from this new powertrain.
How It Affects More Power Tuning
For professional tuning shops like our own, a new transmission like this presents both challenges as well as an opportunity to further maximize performance. With newer hardware at our disposal, MPT is able to calibrate the computerized handling of the transmissions — just as we have on the previous 6-speed — to improve throttle response, shorten shift delay, and enhance fuel economy even for high performance tunes. We take all of the hardware advantages mentioned above such as smoother shifting when towing or closer gear ratios for more readily available power a step further. On the other hand, this also means completely a new software to master. Here's what Mike, MPT's head calibrator has to say about it:
Clearly, a lot of time and perfectionism went in to creating this transmission. It's appropriate that we put in the same effort designing our tune for it. We regularly make adjustments and improvements over time, and many of the things we are able to improve upon in the later versions trickles down to the older model years. For example, our launch of the 2018 F-150 Ecoboost tunes back in late December has resulted in a number of shifting improvements to the 2017 models as we continue to maximize driveability and performance on this transmission.
*0-60 times as measured by Motortrend
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