Bigger, better, faster, more. Such is the world we live in now that something like the automatic transmission for the passenger car has a composed madness about it. 6-speed? Antiquated. Seven? Passe, man. 8 then? Acceptable enough, sure, but how about nine, eh?

That’s the number ZF Friedrichshafen has come up with for its spanking new nine-speed gearbox, developed for vehicles with a transverse engine, which it says will significantly improve fuel economy in front-engined cars.

The company had already presented the case for the box as a concept study at the 2009 IAA in Frankfurt, and now that box has been announced in Detroit as a reality for series development – it will be produced at ZF’s new US plant in Greenville, South Carolina. Chrysler has been named as one of the tranny’s first customers, with the company set to equip its minivans with the gearbox in 2013.

Packaged in a size similar to its eight-speed automatic transmission used in longitudinal installations, ZF says the new nine-speeder ensures extremely short response and shifting times below the threshold of perception, and makes seamless double shifts and direct multiple gearshifts possible. The modern shock absorber systems in the torque converter, which make a rapid lock-up of the converter clutch possible, also mean better fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions.

So, money’s on to see when 10 becomes the new black. Can we expect a day when we’ll have a passenger car with 18 forward and three reverse gears then?