PARIS - Valeo has won contracts from three carmakers for its new generation of compact automatic clutches for small cars. Fiat, Hyundai and another, unnamed, South Korean manufacturer will use the system. Deliveries will start before the end of 1997. The clutches will be manufactured in Amiens, France.
The first car to use the clutch will be Fiat's forthcoming Seicento, according to Fiat Auto President Roberto Testore. The Seicento is expected to debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September. It will replace the Cinquecento as Fiat's entry-level vehicle.
Valeo will also show the clutch at the EquipAuto supplier show in Paris in October.
With an automatic clutch, drivers shift gears manually, but there is no clutch pedal to operate.
'This automatic clutch will apply to mini-class cars,' said Eric Breton, marketing and development manager of Valeo's clutch division.
Three of Valeo's European competitors, Automotive Products, LUK GmbH and Fichtel & Sachs are developing similar products.
Fichtel & Sachs already supplies a compact automatic clutch for the Saab 900, and Automotive Products supplies a system to about 8 percent of Renault Twingo production. Renault markets the clutch under the name Easy. Renault is introducing it on the Clio and Megane.
Mercedes will offer a similar system on its A-class model, supplied by LUK.
BMW introduced a robust system early this year for its M3 sports car. Geitrug makes the mechanical portion, and Fichtel & Sachs provides the electronic controls. The option costs DM4,500 ($2,600).
Traditional automatic transmissions are gaining business in Europe, as are continuously variable transmissions. The clutch makers hope to keep some business with their less expensive system.
Breton said the automated clutch system costs 60 percent of a traditional automatic transmission.
'Considering the present selling price for an automatic clutch, around FF2,500-FF2,800 ($420-$470), they could get 10 percent of the total European clutch market. But the situation will change if the price goes down to FF1,500-FF2,000. We are targeting such a price in 2000,' said Breton.
Valeo and its competitors are trying to make the clutches more compact, lighter and cheaper.
An automatic clutch includes a clutch actuator, an electronic controller and sensors which monitor the engaged gear, engine speed and accelerator pedal position. The controller gives orders to the actuator, which operates the clutch. Fully automated gearboxes follow the same technical principles, with actuators also selecting gears.