When Did Automatic Transmissions Become Popular? The Journey So Far

In this world of ever growing technology, automation has risen to a whole new level. The ability to change gears automatically rather than manual shifting; automatic transmission has taken the market by storm. If contemplating when did automatic transmissions become popular, reading through would be helpful.

Information about When Did Automatic Transmissions Become Popular

Rising from manual to automatic has not been that an easy job. With most of the vehicles running on automatic transmissions today, looking into its history would be interesting. What is the wait for? Let’s start exploring the journey of the automatic transmission from scratch.

1. The Invention

The automatic transmissions came to light back in 1921 when Alfred Honro Munro invented it. The system could not gain much attention as it utilized compressed air rather than hydraulic fluid. Then again in 1932, automatic transmission got the limelight, and this time it used the hydraulic fluid.

If when did automatic transmissions become popular is in question, knowing the advent of the technology becomes a must. The credit of the invention goes to José Braz Araripe and Fernando Lehly Lemos. It is the famous General Motors that brought the concept live in 1940 in the form of “hydra-matic” transmissions.

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2. The Improvement

Further, the developments in the automatic gearbox and the fluid coupling technology, lead to General Motors introducing the first mass automatic transmission in 1939. The concept got acceptance and got the recognition. It got its kick-start when Pontiac and Cadillac adopted the idea too.

Other giant manufacturers such as Bentley, Rolls Royce, Hudson, and Nash followed the lead. An interesting fact to notice is the use of hydra-matic in military vehicles that were a part of World War II.

3. The Torque Converter

The device used in automatic transmissions, a torque converter got recognition in 1948. This device transfers the power of the engine’s drive to the car’s wheels. The best thing about this device is its capability to multiply torque that the fluid coupling failed to achieve.

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Manufacturers such as Packard, Chevrolet, BorgWarner, Ford, and General Motors followed the lead and adopted the torque converter technology. The phase from 1954-1961, the automatic transmissions got a better recognition.

4. Overdrive Equipped Transmission

It was in the early 1980s that the automatic transmission got a new addition in the form of overdrive equipped transmissions. The new invention offered four or even more forward speeds. In 2002, BMW was the first manufacturer to introduce the six-speed transmission.

As the competition rose, Mercedes introduced the seven-speed transmission in 2003, followed by Toyota’s eight-speed in 2007. In 2014, Jeep Cherokee brought into existence the world’s first nine-speed transmission. The subsequent inventions further lead to popularity and wide usage of automatic transmissions.

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5. The Transmission Control Unit

The best advancement in the automatic transmission is the transmission control unit. The device uses the car’s sensors and the information provided by the engine control unit for shifting gears. Be it performance, fuel economy, or shifting efficiency; TCU does everything best.

The first design got recognition in the 1980s and from then, the advancement has only seen a positive outcome. Most of the automatic transmission vehicles are based on TCU and has been making naïve drivers into professional ones. Look through industry knowledge for more on transmission control units.


Now that you know when did automatic transmissions become popular, shifting onto one would not be a bad deal. Researching for the best automatic transmissions in the market becomes a prerequisite though for a valued purchase.