PARIS - Renault and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen said they have developed an automatic transmission that will replace gearboxes now purchased from independent suppliers.
The DP0 automatic will be used in the Renault Megane, Peugeot 406 and Citroen Xantia early next year. Other models will follow within a year.
Only top-of-the-range models equipped with V-6 engines will continue to use automatics from ZF or Aisin.
The four-speed, electronically controlled transmission appears one year after the V-6 engine the two carmakers developed together. The engine now powers the Renault Laguna, Peugeot 406 and 605, and Citroen Xantia and XM.
Renault was technical leader on the automatic transmission program. PSA led the V-6 project.
The new transmission will be produced in two plants in northern France: Renault's Societe Transmissions Automatiques subsidiary and PSA's Unite Mecanique de Valenciennes.
Capacity of each plant will be 800 units a day, equal to a combined annual output of 320,000 units.
Last year, Societe Transmissions Automatiques produced 60,000 automatics for Peugeot and Renault.
The market for automatics in Europe is expected to grow.
'We think that market share might reach 10 percent in 2000, compared to 8 percent today,' said PSA Chairman Jacques Calvet.
With the new capacity, both companies plan to push for more sales of automatic transmissions.
'A risk has been taken, so it must be followed by a marketing effort,' said Remi Deconinck, Renault product planning manager.
Renault and PSA invested 2.8 billion francs ($480 million) in the transmission program.
'The cost has been slashed by 40 percent compared with the previous generation,' said Renault engineer Guy Povie, who led the project. The DP0 gearbox is expected to be priced around 5,000 francs ($860). Povie attributed the savings to 'a new design with fewer components, savings in the manufacturing process and hard work with suppliers.'
Up to 350 engineers worked on the transmission project.
The new gearbox will be built in two plants because 'we want to acquire industrial know-how in making automatic transmissions,' said Henri Saintigny, PSA design and engineering manager. 'We want to be ready to meet a surge in demand when it occurs.'
French carmakers have sold relatively few cars with automatic transmissions. In 1996 Renault sold only 36,500 cars with automatics, or 2.8 percent of total European sales. PSA sold just 29,000.
The ZF automatic will continue to be used in the Renault Laguna and Espace, Peugeot 406 and 605, Citroen Xantia and XM. Aisin will supply the Renault Safrane powered by Volvo four- and five-cylinder engines.