earthworm said:

Eight speeds are on the horizon !...Automatics and manuals...

They're already here! Lexus LS600, some Mercedes Benz and BMW's already have 8-forward speeds in an autobox, most of the real high end models.

Here is a better explaination of how the torque converter operates:

A torque converter has three stages of operation:

**Stall**. The prime mover is applying power to the pump but the turbine cannot rotate. For example, in an automobile, this stage of operation would occur when the driver has placed the transmission in gear but is preventing the vehicle from moving by continuing to apply the brakes. At stall, the torque converter can produce maximum torque multiplication if sufficient input power is applied (the resulting multiplication is called the stall ratio). The stall phase actually lasts for a brief period when the load (e.g., vehicle) initially starts to move, as there will be a very large difference between pump and turbine speed.

**Acceleration**. The load is accelerating but there still is a relatively large difference between pump and turbine speed. Under this condition, the converter will produce torque multiplication that is less than what could be achieved under stall conditions. The amount of multiplication will depend upon the actual difference between pump and turbine speed, as well as various other design factors.

**Coupling**. The turbine has reached approximately 90 percent of the speed of the pump. Torque multiplication has essentially ceased and the torque converter is behaving in a manner similar to a fluid coupling.

*In modern automotive applications, it is usually at this stage of operation where the lock-up clutch is applied, a procedure that tends to improve fuel efficiency*.