VW group Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder enthusiastically endorsed dual-clutch technology at the group's annual meeting in April.
By joining the Volkswagen group, Ford gives the technology momentum in Europe.
Dual-clutch transmissions are essentially manual transmissions that offer the driver the option of driving in an automatic mode.
CSM Worldwide analyst Chris Guile in London predicts that Ford and transmission partner Getrag of Germany will make 200,000 dual-clutch transmissions a year at a Getrag-Ford factory in Kechnec, Slovakia.
Getrag showed both a Getrag-Ford dual-clutch system and a separate Getrag dual-clutch unit at the Frankfurt auto show last week.
Construction on the partners' joint-venture plant began in July. Production of dual-clutch transmissions for cars will begin in mid-2007, says Getrag spokesman Axel Guggenberger.
Ford and Getrag officials declined to say what models might get the transmissions. CSM's Guile expects them to be on the Ford Mondeo and Galaxy minivan and on most Volvos, from the C30 to V70 or even the XC90.
Poised for growth
In the long term, CSM forecasts big growth for dual-clutch technology in Europe - to 6.5 percent of the forecast 23 million cars and light-commercial vehicles produced by 2011. That compares with 0.8 percent of the 19.9 million units built in Europe last year.
German transmission supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG makes a similar forecast.
ZF unveiled a dual-clutch prototype at the Frankfurt show. The ZF transmission, called 7 DCT 50, has seven speeds and is geared for high-performance cars.
The company claims the transmission can handle as much as 369 pounds-feet of torque and up to 9,000 rpm. ZF did not say what production vehicle will feature its new transmission.
The upcoming Bugatti Veyron supercar, designed by VW, will have a dual-clutch transmission designed by British engineering company Ricardo PLC.
"We will initially see them on mid- to large-range vehicles," says CSM's Guile. "Dual-clutch is a very promising variant of the automated manual transmission. Most manufacturers are looking at it, apart from people like PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Renault, who are sticking with AMT because of cost."
Until now, Volkswagen has been the driving force behind the growth of dual-clutch transmissions. VW group Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder enthusiastically endorsed the technology at the group's annual meeting in April. He said 11 percent of Golfs in western Europe come equipped with a dual-clutch transmission.
Says Guile: "If VW's experience is anything to go by, dual clutches could take off quite spectacularly."
BorgWarner Inc., of Auburn Hills, Mich., makes many of the key parts in the VW dual-clutch, which the automaker markets as the direct-shift gearbox, or DSG.
Dual-clutch transmissions work particularly well when mated to diesel engines. Because diesels have a narrow rpm band, there are frequent interruptions in the torque flow. A dual-clutch transmission can be shifted without any break in torque flow.
The dual-clutch transmission works like two automatic transmissions side by side. In a six-speed version, one clutch would operate first, third and fifth gear, while the other would operate second, fourth and sixth. Because the transmission uses two clutches with rapid switches from one to the other, there is no lurch between gears.
The technology promises to combine the smooth operation of automatic transmissions with fuel economy equal to or better than manual transmissions. Like continuously variable transmissions and automated manual transmissions, dual clutches offer better fuel economy than automatic transmissions, which lose power and fuel economy in the torque converter.
Paolo Mantelli, sales and marketing director for Graziano Trasmissioni, an Italian supplier that makes a dual-clutch system, says: "In auto mode, the brain of the system is driving the car, and the shifts are occurring when the torque is just right. So you are shifting gears at exactly the right point in the acceleration process."
You may e-mail Bradford Wernle at [email protected]