General Motors and Ford are working together to develop an all-new family of 9- and 10-speed automatic transmissions for a wide range of future products, putting the auto makers closer to achieving tightening U.S. fuel-economy regulations.

The front- and rear-wheel-drive transmissions, which also are expected to improve vehicle performance, will appear on a wide range of products including cars, trucks, cross/utility vehicles and SUVs.

“Engineering teams from GM and Ford have already started initial design work on these new transmissions,” Jim Lanzon, vice president-global transmission engineering at GM, says in a statement.

“We expect these new transmissions to raise the standard of technology, performance and quality for our customers while helping drive fuel-economy improvements into both companies’ future product portfolios.”

U.S. regulators four years ago enacted new corporate average fuel economy rules of 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km) by 2016, and by 2025 the fleet sold by auto makers must achieve 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km).

Automatic transmissions beyond today’s conventional 6-speed variety are seen as key to making the necessary fuel-economy improvements to achieve compliance.

Meeting the future CAFE requirements will cost auto makers billion of dollars in research and development, so rivals such as GM and Ford are collaborating more often on technologies to slash costs and time-to-market.

GM and Ford previously have worked together on transmissions, bringing to market in the past decade a pair of 6-speed FWD gearboxes for large and small vehicles.

Like those previous collaborations, the 9- and 10-speed transmissions project will see the auto makers share hardware, but each independently will integrate their own control software to tailor the new gearboxes to their specific vehicles. The two OEMs also will manufacture the transmissions separately.

“This will maximize parts commonality and give both companies economy of scale,” says Craig Renneker, chief engineer-transmission and driveline component and pre-program engineering at Ford.

Neither auto maker will discuss a timetable for the new 9- and 10-speed transmissions, what products will carry them or volume estimates. However, the latest collaboration involves a wider array of vehicles than with the 6-speed transmissions, which account for 8 million installations.

“It’s reasonable to assume this collaboration will produce a lot more transmissions,” GM spokesman Dan Flores tells WardsAuto.

The next generation of automatic transmissions from GM and Ford also will make the driving experience more pleasurable, the auto makers say, further smoothing out shifts between gears and making those shifts more quickly. The transmissions also improve responsiveness.

News first broke of plans between GM and Ford on the 9- and 10-speed transmissions about six months ago, but no details were made available.

GM currently has an 8-speed automatic transmission under development and plans to bring that gearbox to market for FWD and RWD vehicles by 2016, a rollout unaffected by today’s announcement.

Ford also is working on an 8-speed automatic transmission, but it is unclear how the new gearboxes will affect that program.

jamend@wardsauto.com