It wasn't too long ago that something as premium as a Honda CR-V had a four-speed automatic gearbox. The Maruti Suzuki A-Star and Hyundai i10 still offer four-speed 'boxes. However, in the search for better performance and lower emissions, the automatic gearbox has been adding more and more speeds for a while.
First off the block was Mercedes with its 7-Gtronic, which, as its name suggests, is a seven-speed automatic. Lexus responded with the world's first eight-speed 'box. That has now become the default choice in premium cars thanks to ZF's eight-speed automatic. ZF said that it would be highly unlikely that we'd see any more speeds, because their gearbox was already very close to ideal efficiency with a decent balance of performance and minimal losses.
GM and Ford have now got together to develop an automatic gearbox that will prove ZF wrong - they will develop two gearboxes, one a nine-speed that will be compatible with front-drive cars, and the other will be a ten-speed for rear-drive vehicles. GM has taken up the mantle of developing the nine-speed, rumoured to debut in a new Cadillac model next year. Ford will develop the ten-speed, which will help lay the power down for performance vehicles from both brands as well.
GM and Ford aren't ahead in the number-of-gearbox-speeds race, however; ZF is developing a nine-speeder, and Hyundai has a 10-speed under development.