DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. is forming a joint-venture with ZF Friedrichshafen AG in the USA to produce up to one million continuously variable automatic transmissions annually for Ford and non-Ford vehicles by 2005.
The venture - owned 51 percent by ZF and 49 percent by Ford -will begin operating in early 1999 and will start producing the new transmission in the second half of 2001.
The new venture breaks ground in three areas:
1. CVTs are coming of age in high-volume vehicles, such as Ford's new Focus.
2. Ford wants to be known as the top CVT company in North America, and possibly worldwide. Other automakers already offer or are developing the technology. But Ford wants to turn the fuel efficiency and 'shiftless' sensation of CVTs into a marketing edge.
3. Employees of the new venture may receive lower compensation than Ford employees.
The new venture will own Ford's automatic transmission plant in Batavia, Ohio, USA.
The Ford Focus will be the first production vehicle to have a CVT from the new company.
Within five years, 25 to 30 percent of Ford's small cars in North America will have CVTs, said Wolfgang Schmid, ZF Group North American Operations marketing and communications manager.
Ford and ZF are also confident they can push current limits by building a bigger and stronger CVT. At the moment, CVTs can only handle torque of smaller engines.
The venture plans to produce a CVT that can be used in mid-sized cars and small light trucks, Schmid said. That unit will be on the market within five years, he added. Possible vehicles include the Ford Taurus, Ford's range of conventional light trucks and the company's new generation of sport wagons.
Beginning in mid-1999, the venture expects to generate more than $1 billion annually in CVT revenues.
CVTs will be offered as standard equipment on Ford vehicles, said Jacques Nasser, Ford president-elect. The cost will be 'very competitive' with current transmissions, added John Huston, Ford vice president of powertrain operations.
The goal, Nasser said, is to develop Batavia as the world's largest-volume producer of CVTs. The venture is expected to sell the transmission to other automakers and to export units, primarily to Europe.
Combined Ford and ZF investment will total 'hundreds of millions' of dollars, Nasser said. Ford brings the plant and work force to the partnership; ZF brings the technology and application expertise.
The new venture will turn CVTs into a high-volume technology, said Klaus Bleyer, ZF chief executive. 'This second-generation product is fully electronically controlled and is able to handle engines up to 2.5 liters.' he added.
ZF's new-generation CVT needs only one housing for all the mechanical and electronic components. That advancement makes the unit more compact than first-generation technology and permits high-volume applications, Schmid said.