FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany -- ZF Friedrichshafen AG is counting on Japanese automakers to push one of its least-known products in North America.
ZF cannot find a North American customer for its continuously variable transmissions, or CVTs. Ford Motor Co. uses only ZF's engineering for its CVT in the United States, leaving ZF with no CVT production in North America.
"We have had a difficult time implementing the CVT concept in the U.S. and Europe, while in Asia, we've seen a completely different situation emerging," said ZF CEO Siegfried Goll through a translator.
"Japanese transmission and vehicle manufacturers closely associate themselves with the concept. They bring it into the market really actively. They also push it onto the American market, and this will definitely help this concept to gain new momentum."
Toyota, Honda and Nissan already offer CVTs in North America. ZF hopes the automakers will raise consumer awareness of the technology.
Low consumer awareness is just one of the challenges ZF and other CVT makers have faced in North America.
The technology also is expensive and limits the power range on vehicles with high horsepower.
A CVT uses a belt or chain to connect two pulleys that slide on shafts and vary the gear ratio based on engine speed.
Drivers get the sensation of shifting without feeling the gears change. A CVT can improve a vehicle's fuel efficiency by as much as 10 percent because it keeps the engine speed at its most efficient point.
ZF had been contracted to make CVTs in Batavia, Ohio, for the Ford Five Hundred, Ford Freestyle and Mercury Montego. But the deal fell apart in January. Ford took over production, and ZF hasn't been able to replace the business.
Ford also is considering the CVT for Volvo, Goll said, but he would not provide details.
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