DETROIT – Transmission-supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG announces at the North American International Auto Show here it will build a 9-speed front-wheel-drive transmission for Chrysler Group LLC beginning in 2013.

The transmission, which ZF says is the world’s first automatic 9-speed transmission for a FWD vehicle with a transversely mounted engine, will be produced for Chrysler and other customers at a new factory near Greenville, SC. Plant construction is expected to begin next month.

As with ZF’s 8-speed transmissions, the new 9-speed uses sophisticated electronics to complete double shifts and other functions so smoothly the driver does not notice.

The new gearbox is designed to handle 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque and is expected to yield fuel-efficiency gains “in the double-digits,” compared with a conventional 6-speed FWD transmission, says Michael Paul, ZF management board member.

Despite having three more gears, the new transmission will weigh about the same as the current 6-speed transmission.

Most advanced automatic transmissions now feature a maximum of eight speeds, but Paul says one-upmanship was not a part of the design directive.

Obtaining maximum efficiency in the space available under the hood is the goal, and in this case 9-speeds are better, Paul says. In a conventional north-south layout, eight speeds still are the more-efficient solution.

The ZF executive declines to tell journalists here what Chrysler vehicle the new transmission is slated for.

However, in an interview with Paul W. Smith on WJR radio, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says Chrysler’s upcoming C/D-segment cars, which will share their architecture with Fiat Automobiles SpA models, will feature a 9-speed automatic transmission.

During the radio interview, Marchionne, who also heads Fiat in Italy, adds he hopes he can fit the new ultra-efficient transmission in as many new FWD vehicles as possible in the future.

dwinter@wardsauto.com