Ford's CVT setback

Ford's plan to add continuously variable transmissions to its powertrain lineup has been postponed by more than a year.

A joint venture with ZF Friedrichshafen to build CVTs at a plant in Batavia, Ohio, USA, has aimed to start production by late this year. Now that date has shifted to sometime in 2003.

Officials for the joint venture had originally predicted that the Batavia plant, 51 percent owned by Germany's ZF, would produce 1 million CVTs by 2005.

'It's running somewhat late,' said Stanley Meyer, director of sales and planning for ZF Batavia. 'Vehicles have gotten somewhat heavier, and this transmission doesn't have the torque capacity to do all of the vehicles that were in the original plan. And then the technology is not progressing as rapidly as we originally planned.'

The transmission reportedly hasn't been a great success at consumer clinics. Some consumers preferred the feeling of gear changes to the smooth acceleration of CVTs.

A CVT uses a belt-and-pulley system to change ratios seamlessly. A conventional automatic changes gears based on predetermined ratios.

Bernd's five-year plan

Bernd Pischetsrieder, VW group's chairman-in-waiting, made one of his last appearances as Seat president when he unveiled the new Ibiza at the Bologna auto show earlier this month.

Introducing the Ibiza, Pischetsrieder spoke Italian 'for the first and only time in my life.'

After the presentation, Pischetsrieder was asked about the auto industry's prospects for 2002. He said: 'For western Europe, I do not share the analysts' predictions of a contraction of around 5 percent. I think Europe will be almost flat next year, mirroring 2001 levels. This year the German market was really weak, but I think it will show a certain recovery next year.'

Pischetsrieder will formally succeed Ferdinand Piech at VWOs helm next April. VW is being reorganized into two divisions, 'classic' (Bentley, Bugatti, Skoda and Volkswagen) and 'sporty' (Audi, Lamborghini and Seat).

Pischetsrieder said 'a five-year time frame' has been set to judge the effectiveness of the reorganization.

'In 2006 the product range of all the brands would have been completely renovated and by that time you could say if we did a good job,' he said.

Some observers said the new Ibiza resembles the Alfa Romeo 147. In 1998, Alfa chief designer Walter de' Silva moved to Seat to help reshape its product range and brand image. The new Ibiza is de' Silva's first full work at Seat.

But Pischetsrieder dismissed the Alfa comparisons.

'I do not think our cars have anything in common with Alfas,' he said. 'We are very different, with our own philosophy.'

Dodge gets Mercedes van

Beginning next year, 90 Dodge dealers in the USA will sell a full-sized Sprinter van built by Mercedes-Benz and badged as a Freightliner.

DaimlerChrysler, which owns the Dodge brand, will begin looking for a North American plant to build commercial and passenger versions.

Offering Mercedes-built vehicles to Dodge dealers could undermine Mercedes' brand identity. But it's the quickest way for D/C to expand sales of Mercedes full-sized commercial vans in the vast US market.

'There will be no deal of the month with Sprinter,' said Tim Reuss, CEO of DaimlerChrysler Vans, the marketing company set up in June. 'We will have to teach them how to sell Sprinter on its attributes and quality.'

D/C said that the Sprinter, with a base price of $26,300 (E29,530), costs about 10 percent more than the competition. That's similar to the premium pricing of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.

Scooter suppliers named

Two auto suppliers have contracts to produce components for a two-wheeled electric scooter called the Segway Human Transporter.

Delphi will supply circuit boards and electronics used to control the machine, which is directed by the motion of the rider.

Michelin North America will supply wheel assemblies and tires for the scooter-like device.

Segway's transporter looks like a push-type lawnmower. The machine is the creation of inventor Dean Kamen, who runs a company called Segway in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA.

The transporter relies on gyroscopes and sensors to respond to its user's movements and is expected to carry a person about 18km on a single battery charge.

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