There's a new competitor entering the light-commercial automatic transmission arena — the ZF PowerLine, a global product that will be built in the manufacturer's Gainesville, GA, plant and offered initially in the first trucks to be released in the U.S. by the Nissan Light Commercial Vehicles business unit in 2010.
According to ZF, the PowerLine is a 6-speed “powershift” [constant-torque] automatic covering the torque range from about 442 to 737 lbs.-ft. [600 to 1,000 newton-meters] and suitable for use with both diesel and gasoline engines.
“With the PowerLine,” said Wolfgang Vogel, member of the Board of Management of ZF and group executive of the Commercial Vehicle and Special Driveline Technology Div., “ZF closes the gap in the product portfolio between passenger car powershift transmissions and powershift transmissions for medium/heavy vehicles.”
The ZF PowerLine will be manufactured, marketed and sold by ZF directly. A joint venture between ZF and ArvinMeritor — ZFMeritor — already markets the FreedomLine heavy-duty automated manual transmission in North America.
While ZF Group North American Operations, which supplies drivetrain and suspension components to North American automotive and truck OEMs, is based in Northville, MI, its parent firm ZF Group, headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany, chose the legendary Nurburgring racetrack near Cologne as the setting last month to show off all its new products.
Vogel said the new transmission is aimed at light commercial vehicles and buses [U.S. GVW Class 3-7] as well as “professional-use pickups.” He said the PowerLine provides more driving comfort and better economy for the operator. “As the gear changes are performed automatically, the drivers can focus on their actual job,” Vogel noted. “This is an advantage particularly in the case of city deliveries.”
According to ZF, the PowerLine's economic punch is provided by an “innovative torque converter that allows for early closing of the converter lock-up clutch.” The company said this means the fuel-intensive operating stages during which power transmission is affected hydraulically are shortened.
ZF also pointed out that the PowerLine has been designed for a commercial vehicle life cycle of 435,0000 mi. [700,000 kilometers]. Ease of maintenance was also a design consideration — transmission fluid should be replaced only every 75,000 mi. [120,000 kilometers], and “oil filter changes are no longer necessary anyway with the new ZF PowerLine.”
The manufacturer also pitched the product to global OEMs, pointing out that by weighing only 308 lbs. [140 kilograms] and having a length of approximately 26 in. [650 mm], the transmission is “very easy to install and integrate into the vehicle” and as “both the hydraulic control unit and the sensors are already integrated into the transmission, the complex and often error-prone fitting of wiring and hoses becomes obsolete.”
A quick spin on the track with an American-built midrange flatbed truck piled high with bales of German hay showed its PowerLine transmission to be a smooth-shifter. ZF engineers on hand noted the PowerLine was developed to compete directly with the Allison 1000/2000 Series as well as the Aisin automatics found in many light commercial trucks.