Increasing efficiency demands are moving more new models to ditch conventional torque converter automatics in favour of continuously variable transmissions (CVT), according to a new report.
The change is being driven not only by buyer demand, but also by pressure in overseas markets, particularly Europe and the US, to meet tightening emissions rules.
Industry site Automotive News report that the proportion of new cars sold in the US with CVTs increased from one percent in 2005, to seven percent in 2010. And, according to industry analysts IHS Automotive, the figure is expected to reach 16 percent by 2015.
CVT transmissions typically use a series of belts and pulleys to provide a continuously variable transmission drive ratio, keeping an engine within its torque 'sweet spot' and delivering significant fuel efficiency benefits.
Japanese manufacturers are largely responsible for the increased proportion of CVTs, with the likes of Nissan using CVTs in all of its front-wheel drive models.
Mitsubishi, Subaru, Suzuki and Honda are among other significant adopters of the design, along with the majority of hybrid models on the market.
Adoption is far from universal however, with Ford officially shunning the technology after a brief foray last decade.
"CVTs are not the way forward for Ford. Our new fuel-efficient technology is designed to work with six-speed and higher automatics", Ford powertrain spokesman Richard Truett told Automotive News.
The unconventional feel of most CVT units has dissuaded some enthusiast buyers, preferring the torque surges of traditional gearshifts.
Some manufacturers are combating this perception by offering selectable ‘Sport’ modes, which have simulated shift points programmed into the transmission’s behaviour.
However, the momentary pauses in power delivery of such a mode undermines the benefits of a CVT.
A vehicle will "lose a little bit of efficiency, but it will make the CVT more palatable to American consumers", Honda US spokesman Chris Martin said.
Martin believes that most buyers are more concerned about efficiency figures, rather than the design of the transmission that achieves this efficiency.
He added: "Nobody's coming into our dealerships and asking us for CVTs, but they are coming in and asking for fuel economy.”
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