Ford considers CVTs as way to improve fuel economy

Ford is considering giving the continuously variable transmission another try.

"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.

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