In the 1980s a trend for five-speed manual transmissions started to develop and automatics followed close behind, and from the late 1990s and early 2000s manual and automatic 'boxes started gaining a sixth ratio.
Since then things started escalating out of control. Mercedes-Benz gave us a seven-speed auto and Lexus put an 8-speed in the IS-F sport sedan. ZF recently announced a 9-speed auto while Porsche has given us a 7-speed manual. Now Hyundai has joined the cog-swapping bandwagon with the announcement of a 10-speed automatic.
Why do we need so many speeds? Economy and performance, that's why. The more gears a car has and the more closely-spaced they are, the more it's able to stay within the most efficient band of power and torque. Modern auto transmissions are now smooth enough that you barely notice the more frequent changes.
In relaxed driving you have enough performance to make progress but revs can be kept low enough to sail through economy and emissions tests. Lower revs also helps make for a quieter cabin.
According to Bloomberg, via Automotive News (subscription required), Hyundai Motor Group says the transmission is being developed for luxury models from 2014 onwards - such as the Hyundai Genesis and Equus luxury sedans. Both are already fitted with 8-speed automatic transmissions.
We're now taking bets on which manufacturer will do a Spinal Tap and turn its gearbox up to 11...