German gearbox specialist ZF unveiled an 8-speed automatic gearbox at the Vienna Motor Symposium back in 2007 but this was just the first of a raft of advanced technologies the company is planning for the coming years. The addition of these new features are claimed to be able to improve fuel-economy by 18% on gasoline-powered vehicles and 30% on hybrids, and we should be seeing the first of these technologies as early as the 2010 model year.

The information comes from ZF vice president of corporate research Harald Naunheimer, who spoke recently with Automotive News. He said pushing the improvements are lighter materials, more efficient electrical systems that replace heavier mechanical ones and transmissions with more gears.

Naunheimer revealed that the new 8-speed automatic alone can improve overall vehicle fuel economy by 6% compared to current six-speeds. Additionally, an electrical power steering can boost fuel economy by 2 to 3% over current hydraulic systems, while an electric active roll stabilizer saves another 1 to 2%, he said.

The savings don’t end there as ZF has also developed an engine stop-start system for its automatic gearboxes that improves fuel economy by up to 5%, while a light-weight AWD transfer case and fuel-efficient axles that use new bearings and technology to reduce friction can boost fuel savings 1 to 1.5% each.
"You'll see these all these technologies on 2010 models," he said.

As with any new technology in the auto industry, the first cars packed with the new features are usually flagship luxury models and it will be no different with the latest ZF gear. BMW will be one of the first automakers to launch a vehicle with ZF’s new 8-speed auto, but given the desperation of most automakers for improved fuel-economy we could be seeing most of these technologies filter to mainstream makes very soon.