General Motors has bigger hopes for the European-built continuously variable transmission that will debut next year on the new Saturn Vue sport-utility.
GM plans to launch CVT production for other vehicles beginning in 2002. While the automaker is not saying how many models will get its new CVT technology, a GM source said it will at least go into the small Corsa line, which GM now builds around the world.
GM and Ford Motor Co. view the CVT as a way to increase fuel economy on vehicles with automatic transmissions and as a way to improve the ride of small-engine cars.
Both U.S. automakers are setting up factories that will deliver CVT systems to models around the world. A Ford joint venture with ZF Industries Inc. in Batavia, Ohio, will begin CVT production in 2002 to supply the Ford Mondeo and other vehicles.
Saturn Corp. will give the world its first peek at the GM technology. The move reflects Saturn's new mission inside GM.
The unit is increasingly becoming GM's global technology pioneer, putting to use components and concepts that are coming out of GM's far-flung world operations. Saturn said it will use technology from Honda, Fiat, Saab, Adam Opel and Aisin Seiki.
Starting this summer, Saturn will import CVTs from Adam Opel AG's plant in Sventgotthard, Hungary. The transmission will go into the automatic version of the new Vue with a 138-hp, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine.
CVT works on the same principle as an automatic transmission. But rather than automatically changing from first to second, or second to third gear based on pre-determined gear ratios, the CVT uses a belt-and-pulley system that seamlessly changes gear ratios.
Saturn has not revealed how many Vues it expects to sell annually, except to say it wants to sell 50,000 its first year. The Corsa is a much higher-volume product.
A CVT-equipped vehicle generally offers a 5 percent to 10 percent improvement in fuel economy over the same vehicle equipped with an ordinary automatic transmission.