It's a short term strategy, but we'll take it.
Chevrolet has just picked the Malibu, its middle of the pack sedan, as the stage on which to unveil its latest fuel-saving technology: a nine-speed automatic transmission that allows for gear ratios to be huddled together and provide the engine with smaller gaps as it climbs gears. Dubbed the Hydra-Matic 9T50, the unit will be mated to the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the Malibu, which will serve to improve highway fuel economy by 3 percent to 33 mpg over the 2016 Malibu's eight-speed transmission.
After the Malibu, the Hydra-Matic 9T50 will migrate to the 2017 Cruze diesel and 2018 Equinox. Unlike more annoying gearboxes with ratio counts in the stratosphere, GM claims that this torque manipulator will not be indecisive or counter a driver's sporting aspirations. "In addition to improved fuel efficiency, the 9T50 offers a strong overall balance of performance and refinement that customers will feel at all driving speeds," said Dan Nicholson, vice president of Global Propulsion Systems. While the range of gear ratios is fairly similar to the eight-speed that's being replaced, the 9T50 shortens the distance between the ratios. A good way to think about it is to imagine a flight of stairs.
It's less exerting to climb said stairs if each step is raised slightly and is not too high from the previous step. One of the other added benefits of this is the fact that gear changes will be nearly imperceptible thanks to the shorter spread. Fortunately, GM did its homework with this gearbox and managed to fit all nine gears within a box that's as big as a six-speed transmission, enabling it to be optimized for transversely mounted engines. This is thanks in no small part to an on-axis design where the gears are in line with the crankshaft and due to a selectable one-way clutch that can either hold torque or spin in place, cutting out the need for an additional clutch pack. Don't look too hard for the gearbox because it'll be in at least 10 GM cars before 2017 is out.