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Ford passes on GM's nine-speed auto

Ford will instead use a modified version of the transmission with one fewer gear.

Ford has decided to amend a transmission deal with General Motors that was supposed to see the Blue Oval sourcing a nine-speed automatic from its cross-town rival for front-wheel drive applications. The transmission agreement has been in place for five years.

Per the terms of the original agreement, GM was supposed to supply Ford with the nine-speed unit in exchange for Ford's development a new 10-speed automatic for rear-wheel drive vehicles. That 10-speed is already in use in both Ford and GM vehicles, but the nine-speed will remain exclusive to GM.

That's because Ford wasn't completely satisfied with the performance of the new nine-speed. According to Ford, the efficiency gains of the nine-speed were outweighed by its extra weight and cost. "The small efficiency benefit did not justify the added weight and cost of an extra clutch and gear," Ford spokesman Mike Levine said in a statement to Automotive News.

Ford isn't completely abandoning the partnership, however. Ford will use the nine-speed for some vehicles, but not in its off-the-shelf form. Instead, Ford will modify the unit to make it a simpler and lighter eight-speed auto. Ford says it will also build two other eight-speed units. The first will be based on a modified six-speed transmission (which was actually co-designed with GM back in 2002) and will be reserved for performance vehicles like the forthcoming Edge ST; the other eight-speed will be a new design intended for lower torque applications.

GM maintains that its nine-speed delivers smoother shifts than an eight-speed auto, but the efficiency gains of the unit aren't as apparent. In the new Malibu the nine-speed only improved highway mileage by 1mpg. In the Buick Envision, which was previously equipped with a six-speed automatic, fuel economy actually dropped by 1mpg.