General Motors will use a Europe-built continuously variable transmission for the new Saturn VUE sport-utility in the USA next year.
The CVT, built at Adam Opel AG's plant in Sventgotthard, Hungary, has been developed for the Corsa supermini.
Although the Corsa went on sale in the autumn in Europe, Saturn will be the first to use the new CVT. Corsa is expected to get the special transmission in late 2001.
GM intends to launch CVT production for other vehicles beginning in 2002.
GM and Ford Motor Co. both see continuously variable transmissions as a way to increase fuel economy on vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions, and also as a way to improve the ride of small-engined cars. Both GM and Ford are setting up factories that will deliver CVT systems to models around the world. A Ford joint venture with ZF Industries Inc. in Batavia, Ohio, USA, will begin CVT production in 2002 to supply the Ford Mondeo and other vehicles.
Using Saturn Corp. to debut the CVT reflects Saturn's new mission inside GM. The US unit is increasingly becoming GM's global technology pioneer, putting to use components and concepts that are coming out of GM's diverse world operations. This year, Saturn said it will use technology from Honda, Fiat, Saab, Opel and Aisin Seiki.
Saturn will import the Opel-developed CVTs from next summer. The transmission will go into the automatic version of the new VUE with a 2.2-liter, 138hp, four-cylinder engine. The VUE version with a 3.0-liter, 181-hp V-6 will not use the transmission.
CVT works on the same principle as an automatic transmission. But rather than automatically changing from first to second, or second to third gear based on predetermined gear ratios, the CVT uses a belt-and-pulley system that slides between the gears seamlessly.
Saturn wants to sell a total of 50,000 VUEs in its first year. The Corsa is a much higher-volume product, and sells in a market where CVTs could be a more important factor for consumers.
GM sells 900,000-1 million Corsas a year, mostly in Europe. Saturn sells mostly in North America, where consumers tend to favor higher horsepower vehicles and where fuel economy has not been a big issue.
A CVT-equipped vehicle generally offers a 5-10 percent improvement in fuel economy over the same vehicle equipped with an ordinary automatic transmission. That could be a factor in Europe. European fuel prices are much higher than those in the USA, and European consumers have been slow to give up manual transmission cars.
Continuously variable transmissions have sold in the USA before. Subaru of America Inc. marketed its Justy with a CVT from 1988 to 1992. But that car, with a 1.2-liter, three-cylinder engine, sold fewer than 28,000 units a year at its peak.