Preview: Nissan's 2010 Heavy-Duty ZF PowerLine Transmission


Volkswagen captured our attention with the concept version of its upcoming global pickup, but another product debuting at the 62nd IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hanover, Germany, should be interesting to commercial truck buyers in North America.

German driveline and chassis supplier ZF is showcasing its all-new PowerLine transmission, which will be first used in the U.S. by Nissan in its 2010 light commercial vehicles. One of those vehicles could be a new heavy-duty pickup.

Fleet Owner Magazine quoted ZF board member Wolfgang Vogel as saying that the ZF PowerLine is aimed at “light commercial vehicles and small buses, as well as professional-use pickups,” which are common in the U.S.

ZF says the six-speed automatic PowerLine will work with either gasoline or diesel engines. It's been engineered to cover a wide torque band, from 440 to 740 pounds-feet of torque, depending on the application.

The PowerLine has also been designed for improved fuel economy. It features an innovative torque converter that uses an early-closing lockup clutch to quickly match engine and transmission speeds during acceleration. Think of it as taking some of a manual transmission's inherent fuel economy advantages and applying them to an automatic gearbox.

ZF also says the transmission weighs about 308 pounds. That's about 7 percent less than a comparable 330-pound six-speed Allison 1000 transmission found in General Motors' heavy-duty diesel pickups.


Maintenance needs have also been reduced. ZF says the PowerLine's transmission fluid needs to be replaced only every 75,000 miles, whereas similar transmissions require the fluid be changed every 50,000 to 60,000 miles. The expected lifespan is 435,000 miles.

The PowerLine transmission will be manufactured in the U.S. at ZF's Gainesville, Ga., plant, about 460 miles from Canton, Miss., where Nissan's light commercial vehicles will be built.

ZF may not stop after partnering with Nissan. Truck and transportation publishing company Randall-Reilly's reports that the PowerLine six-speed will also be offered in future Dodge trucks.

How likely is that to happen? Nissan has officially said that diesel-engine manufacturer Cummins will supply Nissan with two diesel engines for its light commercial vehicles. Cummins is a longtime supplier of diesel engines to Chrysler for use in Dodge Ram heavy-duty pickups. The 2009 Ram HD has a 6.7-liter six-cylinder Cummins diesel, paired with either a six-speed 68RFE or six-speed Aisin automatic transmission, depending on whether the truck is a pickup or commercial chassis cab. A separate 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission is offered with Hemi V-8 gas engine Ram HD pickups. Sharing a common six-speed transmission between Nissan and Chrysler, for gas and diesel engines, could enable ZF to leverage economies of scale to lower its manufacturing costs and pass those savings to Nissan and Chrysler. Nissan and Chrysler have already announced they will partner on the next-generation Nissan Titan.

Stay tuned.


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