The dual-clutch transmission will gain share in Europe during the next five years at the expense of the continuously variable transmission.
European transmission specialists expect CVT penetration to grow in the US and Japan, but they are unsure about its future here.
“The industry is at a crossroads, to make long-term choices between CVT on one hand, and dual clutch,” said Coen van Leeuwen, head of product planning at Van Doorne Transmissie, the creator of the CVT.
Some think the choice for Europe already has been made.
“The dual-clutch transmission will put the final nail in the coffin for the CVT,” says Andrew Fulbrook, manager of European powertrain forecasts at CSM Worldwide in London.
The Volkswagen group is driving the growth of the dual-clutch transmission. Europe’s largest automaker offers the sporty, fuel-saving system, which it calls DSG (direct shift gearbox), as an option on 10 models.
Eleven percent of the VW Golfs sold in western Europe are equipped with DSG, said VW group Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder. The DSG versions of the Golf cost between E1,400 and E1,700 more than comparable Golf models without the feature.
CSM’s Fulbrook says other carmakers are trying to catch up with VW on dual-clutch transmissions. “VW started and now everyone is following, everyone is doing it. They might not all go into production, but they are all doing it.”
UK-based engineering consultancy Ricardo has worked on 19 different dual-clutch projects in the past three years. It engineered and manufactured the dual-clutch transmissions for the Bugatti Veyron and Chrysler ME Four-Twelve supercars.
Fulbrook thinks the CVT will disappear in Europe from all but the Japanese brands because of cost.
A CVT is essentially an automatic transmission that uses a belt or chain to connect two pulleys that slide on shafts and vary the gear ratio based on engine speed. Generally, a CVT offers fuel economy equal to a manual transmission because it keeps engine speed at its most efficient point regardless of the vehicle’s speed.
The CVT’s disadvantages include: the cost of the belt or the chain; the durability of the belt in high-torque engines; the need to retool or create a new transmission assembly line to build the CVT; its odd size compared with other transmissions.
A dual-clutch transmission is a manual transmission with the option to drive in automatic mode. Many consider it part of the automated manual transmission family because it allows drivers to either set the transmission as an automatic requiring no manual shifting or lets drivers manually shift without having to press down on a clutch pedal.
European automakers such as Fiat and Ford, two CVT pioneers in Europe, already have shifted to automated manual transmissions for their small-segment cars because AMTs are smaller, lighter and cheaper produce than CVTs.
A disadvantage of dual-clutch transmission is that, because of low volume, it costs more to make than most manual transmissions (see box). But it still costs E450 less to produce than a CVT with a chain, CSM estimates.
Low volume, high cost
Fewer CVTs already are built than conventional automatic or manual transmissions, so CVT makers have fewer economies of scale.
Fulbrook says that problem will get worse in the next six years resulting in an estimated per-unit cost to make a CVT of up to E1,600 by 2011.
ZF Friedrichshafen CEO Siegfried Goll says the German supplier is counting on Japanese automakers to push CVTs.
“We have had a difficult time implementing the CVT concept in the US and Europe, while in Asia, we’ve seen a completely different situation emerging,” Goll said during an interview in November 2004.
ZF expects that just 1 percent of the cars produced in western Europe will be fitted with a CVT by 2012, the same level as 2002.
By comparison, ZF forecasts that production of the dual-clutch transmission will rise to 6 percent by 2012, up from zero in 2002.
The supplier will show a version of its dual-clutch transmission at September’s IAA in Frankfurt, a source said.
Globally, Nissan has sold more than 1 million CVT-equipped vehicles, says Kurt von Zumwalt, director of product public relations at Nissan North America. He says the company expects a fourfold increase in global CVT applications during the next three years.
But even Nissan is cautious about the transmission’s future in Europe.
Francois Crisias, a product spokes-man for Nissan Europe, says Nissan won’t offer the CVT as an option in Europe in the small and lower-medium segments because it doesn’t think it could sell enough models with the transmission to be profitable.
In Europe, most cars in those segments have manual transmissions, which cost up to half as much to produce compared with a CVT, according to estimates from CSM.
Fulbrook says the dual-clutch transmission provides fuel savings that are comparable to the CVT – both use up to 15 percent less fuel than an automatic transmission – plus the dual-clutch transmission is less expensive to manufacture because it can be built on the same assembly line as a manual transmission. That means there is no need for retooling.
Another disadvantage of the CVT is vehicle packaging. Some CVT applications are much shorter and taller than other transmissions.
Since CVTs are rarely the only transmission offered for a vehicle, engine bays need to accommodate both types. If automakers don’t believe a CVT will sell well, it is easier and cheaper to design the engine bay without room for a CVT.
BorgWarner CEO Timothy Manganello said one of the reasons the US supplier is growing in Europe is because of the sales of its dual-clutch modules to the Volks-wagen group. BorgWarner calls the technology DualTronic, VW group calls it DSG.
Overall, he said BorgWarner has booked sales of about E220 million worth of its dual-clutch modules through 2007. That represents about 20 percent of the sales it has booked for 2005-2007.