ZF's new 2-speed transmission could bring big benefits to EVs

It could improve efficiency or performance, depending on the automaker's end goals.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
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You'll probably never see it, but you'll thank this two-speed EV transmission as you jet past yet another charging station.


Electric motors have a pretty wide rev range, they produce a bunch of torque at low rpm and they're sufficiently efficient across that rev band. For that reason, most EVs make do with a single-speed transmission that has its gearing set up to balance all of those qualities in equal measure. That doesn't mean the single-speed EV transmission is as good as it gets, though, and ZF thinks it's cooked up something clever that can produce even more benefits.

ZF on Tuesday unveiled a new two-speed transmission. Dedicated for electric vehicles, ZF believes its technology can improve a vehicle's efficiency without taking up an unnecessarily large amount of space, which would only work against the new transmission's efforts.

This new two-speed unit is programmed to shift at about 43 miles per hour, but that shift position isn't set in stone. It can work with a car's other systems to, for example, choose when to shift based on local maps and topography. It could also shift into a more range-minded gear based on its distance from the next EV charger to help alleviate range anxiety.

By implementing this second gear, which can provide a ratio more suited to efficiency, ZF claims its transmission can boost range by up to 5 percent when compared with a single-speed unit. Automakers could pair this with a smaller battery, reducing curb weight while maintaining range, or it could use the same battery for additional range.

ZF believes there's use for a two-speed transmission beyond efficiency, too. By tweaking the gear ratios, ZF could instead create a transmission gearing that boosts an electric car's top speed -- a notable sticking point for some EVs, which have rev-limited top speeds in exchange for better low-speed performance. We'll get our first glimpse at a production EV with a two-speed transmission when the Porsche Taycan comes out, although it's unclear if Porsche is relying on ZF's solution or if there's another one kicking around.

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