A four-speed automatic will replace the CVT in the Saturn Ion coupe and Opel Astra for the 2005 model year. Those cars also will be available with a five-speed manual. The CVT will be available in just one nameplate in 2005, the Saturn Vue with all-wheel drive.
In 2006, GM will replace the four-speed automatic with a six-speed automatic.
GM has sold about 86,000 vehicles with CVTs since they first became available in the United States it 2002. It is a $900 option on the 2004 Saturn Ion and a $1,990 option on the 2004 Vue.
GM's decision to drop the CVT did not come as a surprise to at least one industry analyst.
"The expertise of the North American industry is clearly toward planetary (automatic) type gearboxes," said Lindsay Brooke, senior powertrain analyst for CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills, Mich.
While many of GM's cars have been criticized in recent years for dull styling, bland interiors or other problems, there have been few gripes about the power, performance, quality and refinement of GM's engines and transmissions.
GM made the decision to reduce the number of transmissions it uses, said Tom Stephens, GM group vice president for global powertrain. Stephens said the new six-speed automatic would offer the same or better fuel economy over the outgoing CVT. And it will deliver better performance.
A CVT uses two sliding pulleys connected by a steel belt or chain to drive the wheels. The transmission is mostly suited to small displacement, low-torque cars. CVTs deliver fuel economy gains of about 10 percent over a four-speed automatic. But CVT technology can be fragile.