US transmission supplier BorgWarner has developed an innovative automated manual transmission (AMT) system that it expects to create strong growth opportunities - particularly in Europe.
BorgWarner has been involved in transmission systems since the 1900s. It developed its first manual transmission in 1909 and manufactured one of the first automatic transmission systems to go into volume production.
But in the mid-1980s, BorgWarner began to exit the automatic transmission system business due to carmakers' reluctance to outsource in the transmission and engine areas.
'Carmakers have traditionally viewed the transmission and the engine as being critical in defining the personality and brand image of the vehicle,' says Robert Welding, president and general manager at BorgWarner.
Since the mid-1980s, BorgWarner has focused on components such as friction materials, friction bands and one-way clutches in the transmission area.
But now BorgWarner believes the market is set to enter a new phase.
'The transmission is becoming a really hot area these days,' says Welding.
Fuel emission and air quality requirements are driving change in the transmissions market and forcing the automotive industry to search for new solutions, says Welding. New technological opportunities have also forced a change in outlook, he adds.
'Carmakers thought the transmission was so important for defining personality, they had to make it,' says Welding. 'That is not true anymore.
'With electronic controls for transmissions you can have a generic transmission and, through the control strategy, you can make it feel like a BMW or like a Cadillac.'
Welding says pressures on carmakers from investors to improve their return on capital will make them reluctant to commit the huge sums needed for the development of new transmission systems.
BorgWarner believes this combination of factors has created the right climate for the launch of its new automated manual transmission system.
Automated manual transmissions such as Selespeed are based on manual transmissions with an automated clutch system. With this system 'torque interrupt' can be experienced during the shift - a period when the engine is not connected to the wheels.
BorgWarner's automated manual transmission uses a dual clutch system. The drive is shifted between the two clutches to prevent interruption of torque. BorgWarner claims the power transmission is much smoother and more like a conventional automatic transmission.
Traditionally, Europe has not seen a large take-up of automatic transmissions. Manual transmissions account for around 80 percent of Europe's new-car market, with automatics making up the remainder.
BorgWarner says its new automated manual transmission system is really an automatic that is shifted electronically with a manual override mode, allowing the driver to signal the shift.
The new system costs more than a manual transmission, but less than a traditional automatic.
BorgWarner says its new automated manual transmission system will cost between $900-$1,000, or the equivalent amount in euros.
For comparative purposes, a high-speed manual with a dry clutch costs around $500 while a four- or five-speed automatic with torque converter costs upward of $1,000.
The AMT concept also delivers improved fuel efficiency, according to BorgWarner.
BorgWarner says the market for its new system could be worth more than $1 billion a year globally.
'You can put it in each and every vehicle that has a manual transmission today,' says Bernd Matthes, the manager responsible for New Concept Automated Transmission Technology at BorgWarner's European Advanced Transmission Systems Center in Ketsch, Germany. 'There is no limit.'
In September 2000 BorgWarner announced it had secured a letter of intent from an unnamed major European carmaker to supply the first application of its transmission technology. But BorgWarner refused to put a date on the launch.
BorgWarner says development of its new system will transform it from a transmission components producer to a complete systems supplier.
'Automatic transmissions, which is probably our most mature business, will now reinvent itself and become our newest business,' says Welding.
Carmakers are looking to Tier 1 suppliers to take on responsibility for developing and producing engine and transmission modules and systems.
BorgWarner estimates that up to 50 percent of the components that make up its new system will be produced in-house.
The new system utilizes the group's capabilities in friction materials, electronic controls, and wet clutch technology.
'We will make the things we are really good at - and if there are subcomponents that are critical to the performance of the system, we will learn how to make them, too' says Welding.
BorgWarner had 1999 sales of $2.46 billion. It employs 14,400 at around 60 plants in 13 countries.