TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- General Motors is likely to expand its use of continuously variable transmissions in its small cars as fuel economy standards tighten yearly on the way to 2025.
While not tipping its hand on specifics, the automaker is finding that its current CVT technology is working well and is suitable for more applications.
“We’re optimistic about CVTs in the U.S. market for front-wheel-drive applications up to a certain weight level,” said Dan Nicholson, GM’s vice president of global propulsion systems. “They don’t make sense in everything, but you will see more of that from GM in the future.”
“We’re relatively bullish on CVTs,” Nicholson said at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars on Tuesday.
GM currently offers just one car with a CVT, the Chevrolet Spark, whose transmission is supplied by Jatco Ltd., a subsidiary of Nissan Motor Co.
Nissan has switched all of its volume cars, including the midsize Maxima, to CVT. Honda also has been replacing its traditional automatics with CVTs.
Nicholson did not rule out the possibility that GM could manufacture its own CVTs in the future.
“We are happy with the product we are buying today,” he said. “It is enjoying good success in the marketplace. We usually look at make-vs.-buy and volumes.”
He also would not rule out the possibility of producing a CVT through a partnership with Ford Motor Co.
Ford also has said it is taking a fresh look at CVTs for small cars.
Transmissions have been a friendly watering hole for the two traditional rivals. Ford and GM are launching two jointly designed transmissions for the 2017 model year, a 10-speed automatic for rear-wheel-drive vehicles and a 9-speed automatic for front-wheel-drive cars and crossovers.
Ford is debuting the 10-speed automatic in the off-road F-150 Raptor sport truck, while GM will offer the 9-speed automatic first in a Chevrolet vehicle. The first GM vehicle to get the 10-speed automatic is the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Speaking to an audience at the seminars, Nicholson said automakers must collaborate in order to bring fuel-saving technologies to market affordably.
Ford no comment
Ford would not comment on the possibility of adding a CVT to the companies’ joint transmission venture.
“We, of course, don’t discuss future product plans,” said Ford spokesman Paul Seredynski. “But Ford is always exploring future potential areas of collaboration.”
CVTs use a belt or a chain between two pulleys instead of gears to transmit power to the wheels. The transmissions are smaller, lighter and deliver better fuel efficiency than a traditional step-gear automatic transmission.
In the early part of the century, GM built its own CVT that was used in the Saturn Ion and Vue. But the transmission was problem-plagued and was dropped in 2005.