Car makers change gears to drive up market share

Jan 24 2014, 11:49 IST
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With these new launches that addresses the issue of fuel efficiency, companies expect AT sales to grow further. Reuters With these new launches that addresses the issue of fuel efficiency, companies expect AT sales to grow further. Reuters
SummaryFirms are deploying advanced AT systems to improve ease of driving.

Amid flagging car sales even in the high volume segments, manufacturers such as Honda Cars India, Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Volkswagen are deploying advanced automatic transmission systems in a bid to improve the ease of driving, which is emerging as the key product differentiator in the cut-throat mid-range hatchback and sedan segments.

Honda has, earlier this month, launched a new Automatic Transmission technology in the latest model of its City sedan that it claims as a breakthrough — a new continuous variable transmission (CVT) model with infinite number of gears. It is touted as more fuel efficient than the manual transmission, delivering 18 km to a litre of petrol against the manual’s 17.8 kmpl. Maruti, too, is in advanced stages of launching its own new Automatic Manual Transmission technology (AMT), which reportedly uses manual shift patterns at the gear lever but without the physical input for the clutch.

Volkswagen, which had launched automatic 6-speed gearbox capable of changing gear with no interruption in power flow for both the Polo and Vento in India, is developing a new 7-speed dual-clutch technology, which, the company says will improve efficiency even further. The German auto major’s dual-clutch gearbox contains two wet clutches with two drive shafts, with the first clutch engaging gear numbers one, three, five and reverse, while the second clutch engages gear two, four and six. When a gear change is made, the next gear is already pre-selected but not yet engaged and it takes just three to four hundredths of a second for one clutch to engage while the other is released, resulting in smooth gear changes without any interruption in the power flow. Tata Motors too is reportedly toying with the idea of developing a variant of the Nano based on the clutch-less transmission technology.

Maruti is expected to launch the new AMT-based automatic version in a one litre petrol car, likely to be badged as the ‘Celerio’. The technology, which Suzuki Motor Corporation took three years to develop, effectively automates the clutching mechanism while leaving the gear shifting mechanism to the driver, the first time such a technology would be deployed in a small car.

With these new launches that addresses the issue of fuel efficiency, companies expect AT sales to grow further. “The reason behind lower sales of AT is that consumers do not want to pay extra and then buy a lesser fuel-efficient cars. We have tried to address that issue with the new continuous variable transmission, which gives more mileage than a manual transmission. We expect the demand for ATs to pick further with this,” Jnaneswar Sen, senior vice-president (Sales and Marketing) at Honda Cars India told The Indian Express.

Unlike developed markets such as the US and Europe, where 90 per cent of the cars are automatic, the technology in India has been largely restricted to just high-end sedans. The demand for automatics in India has picked up in the last couple of years, with buyers of small and mid-size cars beginning to opt for automatic variants. Automobile companies have responded by nearly doubling the number of automatic models being made available in the country over the past four years.

Analysts feel that the automatic segment is going to grow in the near future. “With the worsening traffic conditions on Indian roads, the consumers are looking for comfort in driving and the companies are going to launch more automatic versions and segment is likely to grow by 5 per cent in the next five years from 1 per cent of total sales currently,” said Puneet Gupta, Principal Analyst (Automobile) at IHS, a consultancy firm.

New Tech

* Honda has launched a new Automatic Transmission technology in the latest model of its City sedan that it claims as a breakthrough

* Maruti is in advanced stages of launching its own new Automatic Manual Transmission technology, which reportedly uses manual shift patterns at the gear lever

* Volkswagen is developing 7-speed dual-clutch technology which may improve efficiency

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