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CVTs to double NA market share by 2015

by Drew Johnson

CVTs are expected to flourish in the North American market over the next three years.

Love 'em or hate 'em, more continuously variable transmissions (CVT) are coming to the North American market.

CVTs have largely struggled to secure a foothold in the North American market, but more and more automakers are turning to the shiftless transmission as a way to comply with more stringent fuel economy regulations. CVTs accounted for just 1 percent of the North American market in 2005, but that figure is expected to grow to 16 percent by 2015. Currently about 7 percent of all cars sold in North America are fitted with a CVT.

Although early CVTs were plagued with reliability and perception issues, those issues have largely been solved. Modern CVTs have proven to be more robust than their earlier counterparts and buyers are largely overlooking the no-shift feel of the transmission for improved fuel economy.

"Nobody's coming into our dealerships and asking us for CVTs," Honda spokesman Chris Martin told Automotive News. "But they are coming in and asking for fuel economy. And if you look at the government efficiency requirements for the next few years, a CVT provides the fuel efficiency we want in both highway and city driving."

Nissan is the most wide-spread user of CVTs in North America, but Honda has confirmed that its new Accord will come with a gearless transmission and Toyota is reportedly developing a CVT for its next-generation Corolla compact. Subaru is also a major supporter of the CVT movement, citing the "gearbox" as the reason for the Impreza's 36 percent improvement in fuel economy.

Still, some companies within the industry aren't planning to make the shift to CVTs any time soon.

"CVTs are not the way forward for Ford," says Richard Truett, Ford powertrain spokesman "Our new fuel-efficient technology is designed to work with six-speed and higher automatics."

Ford launched a failed CVT joint-venture with German supplier ZF in 1999, although the Dearborn-based automaker still uses CVTs in its hybrid models.