Ford may join the ranks of Nissan, Honda, and many other automakers in using continuously variable transmissions to improve fuel economy, according to a report from Automotive News. Though the automaker has avoided this type of transmission recently because of a bad experience sourcing a CVT from ZF in the early 2000s, the transmission’s increased popularity in the U.S. means that it’s back on the discussion table.
Ford global product chief Raj Nair told AN that the company is reconsidering CVTs as a way of improving fuel economy, specifically for low-torque engines in smaller applications. Ford’s small cars like the Focus and Fiesta currently use a dual-clutch PowerShift automatic transmission, which had a few teething problems a few years ago when owners complained of slow shifts and clunky operation. A CVT would likely be able to provide a fuel economy improvement from the Fiesta’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder and the Focus’ 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Ford may also be able to mate a CVT with its turbocharged EcoBoost engines, like the small 1.0-liter three-cylinder offered in the Fiesta and Focus that is only available with a manual for now.
For higher-torque applications like in trucks and SUVs, a new CVT is less likely, as Ford is already developing nine- and ten-speed automatic transmissions in partnership with General Motors. These traditional, torque-converter automatics are said to go into production by 2017, with the nine-speed for front-wheel drive applications and the ten-speed for rear-wheel-drive applications.
The only other current Ford models that use continuously variable transmissions are its hybrid models including the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the Ford C-Max, and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Ford previously partnered with German supplier ZF to offer a CVT in the Ford Five Hundred, Mercury Montego, and Ford Freestyle models between 2003 and 2008, but that partnership dissolved in 2008 when the Ohio plant producing these transmissions closed.
We don’t know at this point if Ford is looking into external suppliers for this new CVT, or whether the company might build its own CVT. Keep an eye out for more news on Ford’s future transmission plans.