STUTTGART - A major increase in demand for continuously-variable transmissions (CVT) will help drive a near-100 percent rise in the market share of automatic gearboxes in western Europe by 2005, according to Germany's ZF Friedrichshafen.
Twenty-five percent of all cars sold in the region in 2005 will be automatics, compared with 13 percent last year, predicts ZF.
'The major growth will come from CVT applications which will occur in the middle and lower segments of the car market,' said Klaus Bleyer, management board chairman at ZF at the company's annual financial press conference.
'New electronic controls and an improvement in belt technology have dramatically improved the prospects for CVT in these segments. We are now able to handle torques up to 300Nm, and engines up to 2.5 liters.'
The German supplier bought a 51 percent stake in Ford's Ohio-based CVT plant earlier this year, and sees similar deals emerging in the future.
ZF rents the workforce from Ford, but will return employees to Ford as it progressively hires and begins to train its own staff.
In other news, Bleyer said ZF has also won a major contract to assemble drive axles for the new Volkswagen T5 platform, which will provide the replacement for Volkswagen's current Transporter van and the Porsche/Volkswagen sport-utilities.
Two new German factories, located in Passau and Gotha, are being built to handle the new business.
'Our module business is growing nearly 30 percent a year,' said Bleyer. 'Independent axles are replacing rigid axle technology, and there is a real need for a modular approach and technological change.'