Brake and clutch specialist FTE Automotive is codeveloping automated transmission systems with fellow German supplier Getrag.
The two companies are working on a number of automated manual transmission projects, in one case under a joint development contract.
US supplier Dana owns 100 percent of FTE and has a 30 percent stake in Getrag, a transmission supplier based in Ludwigsburg.
FTE, based in Ebern, was the first manufacturer in the world to develop an antilock braking system for motorcycles. And CEO Bernhard Fischenich says the company is well placed to capitalize on the increasing popularity of automated manual transmission systems in Europe.
FTE supplies components for automated manual transmissions already on the market, including Magneti Marelli's Selespeed system. But Fischenich expects rapid growth over the next few years as installation rates increase when more advanced automated manual transmissions become available.
'Our objective is to be a supplier of the complete system, to really increase our content per vehicle,' said Fischenich.
The move away from manual clutch actuation to automated gear shifts involves systems worth hundreds of euros instead of tens of euros, said Fischenich. 'It's a good increase,' he added.
European car buyers traditionally have preferred manual to automatic transmissions, mainly because they are cheaper and offer better performance. But the latest automated manual transmissions - notably the Easytronic system that is available on the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa - offer automatic shifts with a fuel economy equal to or better than a manual.
With automated manual transmissions, gear changes can be carried out automatically or the driver can choose to make them independently.
Development of automated manual transmissions was driven by Formula One racing, which demands rapid gear changes at optimum engine speeds.
The Volkswagen group is FTE's largest customer, making up 31 percent of sales. All the other major European and US carmakers are clients, but no other manufacturer makes up more than 25 percent of sales.
FTE also has big hopes for its antilock braking system for motorcycles. FTE is BMW's only supplier of motorcycle antilock brakes, and Peugeot recently made the FTE system standard fit on its top-end Elystar scooter.
Fischenich estimated that annual global production of motorized two-wheelers is about 25 million. Therefore the opportunity for growth in motorcycle antilock brakes is 'pretty much unlimited,' he added.
FTE has facilities in Brazil and Mexico in addition to Germany, but it has not shifted any of its manufacturing operations to central or eastern Europe.
'Our most recent plant addition, which we built only three years ago, is only three or four kilometers away from our existing plant [in Ebern],' said Fischenich. 'We prefer to rely on the availability of a highly skilled, local work force.'
FTE also continues to produce its own rubber compound in-house. The compound is used for the seals and diaphragms in FTE's hydraulic clutch actuators.
'Rubber development is another one of our core competences,' said Fischenich. He said that 'there are only a few entry-level vehicles still fitted with cable-actuated clutches.'
FTE's sales increased by 4.5 percent to just under E270 million last year. Research and development costs were about 6 percent of sales.
Fischenich said the FTE's sales are expected to grow by at least 1.5 percent in 2002, in spite of the slowdown in the automotive market.