"We've had some experience with CVTs and it wasn't all good," said Raj Nair, Ford's global product development chief, during a media event here. "They are getting better. And we are taking another look, particularly in the low torque applications. There may be some [potential] there."
Ford does not have an automatic transmission for its smallest engine, the 1.0-liter three-cylinder in the Ford Fiesta SFE. That car is available only with a manual transmission. Fewer than 5 percent of cars sold in North America are equipped with manuals, according to IHS Automotive.
The CVT is enjoying a renaissance in North America, getting wide use in Audi, Nissan, Honda, Subaru and Toyota vehicles. The key benefit: better fuel economy.
A CVT also offers a smoother ride by continuously increasing its gear ratio as the vehicle increases acceleration — rather than by stepping from gear to gear.
Ford last offered a CVT in a nonhybrid in 2007 in the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans, and in the Ford Freestyle crossover. Those vehicles were equipped with a CVT built in Batavia, Ohio, developed by a troubled joint venture with Germany's ZF Friedrichshafen AG.
Nair didn't say if Ford would build its own or buy a CVT from a supplier.
CVTs, though popular in Europe and Asia, only recently gained much traction in North America, where drivers are accustomed to the characteristics of a traditional automatic transmission.