General Motors is dropping its continuously variable transmission.
The one-speed CVT gearbox, built in the Fiat-GM powertrain plant in Szentgotthard, Hungary, and touted as a fuel-saving transmission, debuted in late 2002 in the Saturn Ion Coupe and Saturn Vue and was optional in the 2004 Opel Astra.
The CVT will only be available in all-wheel drive versions of the 2005 Saturn Vue, but will end production when it is dropped from that vehicle in 2006, says Tom Stephens, group vice president of GM Powertrain.
A six-speed automatic transmission under development will replace the CVT during the 2006 model year. That transmission design might be a scaled down version of the joint GM-Ford transmission both automakers are working on. GM declined to comment. A Ford spokesman said the automaker is looking at other applications for its version of the six-speed automatic transmission, including smaller vehicles.
For the 2005 model year, GM will use a four-speed automatic transmission in the Saturn Ion, Stephens said.
GM's experiment with CVTs has been costly.
The gearbox was more than a year late and it has had quality problems. GM halted production from January to March to fix an assembly glitch. Consumers complained of failed transmissions, grinding noises and sluggish acceleration. The automaker extended the warranty on the CVT earlier this year. The CVT is a $1,990 option on the Vue and was a $900 option on the Ion.
Neither the late launch nor the quality issues killed the CVT. Instead, Stephens says GM's decision to drop the CVT is based on the better performance and fuel economy of the upcoming six-speed automatic, as well as the economies of scale that will come from producing the six-speed in high volume.
"We believe the future of GM's transmission portfolio is planetary gear 5- and 6-speed automatic transmissions, not CVTs," said Stephens.
GM would save money by switching from the CVT to the six-speed automatic.
Says Stephens: "The six-speed has more capability and range. It isn't giving up anything to CVT."