By on January 23, 2015

2015 Chevrolet Spark

Not content with using CVTs from other manufacturers, General Motors is working on a CVT in-house for use in its global lineup.

Per Ward’s Auto, details on the new transmission are scant at best, though the publication’s sources state the in-house unit will be installed in several “high-volume” models by 2019, paired up with the automaker’s new line of three- and four-cylinder engines set to see production this year. The sources added that GM is taking bids from suppliers to build parts for the CVT.

Though the automaker uses CVTs already, including the 2015 Spark and Nissan NV-based City Express, it hasn’t had much luck with using units designed and assembled in-house. In the early 2000s, GM ran a program that saw such a product installed in the Saturn Vue and Ion, as well as the Opel Vectra, before production and drivability issues brought the program to a halt in 2004.

As for why go for it again, GM Powertrain representative Tom Read says the automaker has the capability to make its own CVTs, and will deliver when conditions — specifically those concerning fuel efficiency and emissions — are met:

GM has unmatched transmission expertise and development resources and is capable of delivering additional CVTs if and when they’re needed.

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46 Comments on “General Motors Developing CVT In-House For Global Lineup...”


  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Strange talk from the General considering that Honda and Nissan have made CVTs mainstream.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    If memory serves me right, a number of years ago GM offered a cvt in several Saturn models and it was an absolute disaster. Both Honda and Nissan have been using cvts for several years with apparently no problems. Will GM get it right this time?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Your memory is correct. 4-cyl Saturn VUEs (’02-’04) and Saturn ION coupes (’03-’04) offered a CVT. They called it a VTi, though I can’t remember what that acronym stood for. It was an unreliable turd, which is sad considering that VUEs and IONs with other transaxles were fairly reliable vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The Honda CVTs had some issues; the Nissan models have been quite reliable.

      The GM unit in the Vue was very problematic. They might get it right, but I’d rather sit back and watch the first year or two sort themselves out.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        You mean they finally sent a few Vues out with it? When I bought my ’02, I’d ordered a CVT but they were having so many problems with it that they offered me an Opel 5-speed sport transaxle instead. Best decision I ever made. Over 120,000 miles before replacing clutch plates with Stage 2 pack.

        • 0 avatar
          wstarvingteacher

          I had the same Vue but I got the lemon of the bunch. Replaced both clutch and transmission at different times. Loved that car….. when it worked.

          The CVT overall has had a lot of teething problems. Saturn tried to sell me the vue with a CVT so they put them out for a while. Then suddenly they weren’t available. I think Nissan finally got it sorted out but I bought the extended warranty because the wife needed an automatic because of a bad knee. We will see.

          I can tell you that the CVT delivers slightly better FE than the 6 speed MT we had in the otherwise identical predecessor. After 50k miles in two years I sort of forget it’s a CVT. Biggest complaint is the low payload and the threat of a voided warranty with just a luggage rack. I feel that shows a lack of confidence on the part of Nissan. Also means I will forever have a second car while we have it.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            I agree that CVT offers huge economy advantages over the old automatics, but I doubt they’ll ever be able to handle any significant torque because of the relatively small contact patches. They’re almost perfect for light vehicles with low torque but as soon as you add some weight you start loading that belt too much.

            As a result, I bought a Fiat 500 with the 6-speed auto and find the dry clutch transmission surprisingly effective–MT-like performance and economy without having to three-pedal it. All I do is move the auto lever from Drive to +/- and upshift/downshift as if it were manual. The 9-speed in the Renegade is supposed to have the same capability. (The digital display lets you see what gear you’re in but most of the time you don’t care as you shift to meet the demand and not to achieve a specific gear.)

          • 0 avatar
            wmba

            “I agree that CVT offers huge economy advantages over the old automatics, but I doubt they’ll ever be able to handle any significant torque because of the relatively small contact patches.”

            Like so many of the statements you make, not correct. The German Schaeffler LuK CVT is rated at 300 lb ft and is paired with Subaru’s diesel and gas turbo engines, as well as the six cylinder. Ever heard of a Subaru CVT failure?

            Do try and keep up, there’s a good fellow. Your doubt was bypassed years ago by German engineers, who no doubt know a great deal more on the subject than you do. BTW, your Fiat’s MultiAir system on your Fiat 500 engine is yet another Schaeffler product. How is that working for you? Good? I thought so.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Can you link to this Subaru CVT? I have to admit I never heard of one until you mentioned it.

            Still, let me ask you this: If that one is so good, why hasn’t Subaru brought it here to the States?

            And I don’t have “multiair” in my Fiat. It’s the base 1.4.

          • 0 avatar
            pragmatist

            “Ever heard of a Subaru CVT failure?”

            Actually Jatcos (which Subaru uses also) have had LOTS of problems.

            Covering up an inherently bad concept with fancy engineering is not as good as sticking with a good idea (gears pretty often outlast the car). Lots of things sound good by ratings, as the vehicles age, relying on tiny contact patches is just asking for trouble.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Nissan CVTs had a lot of issues in the early years, particularly those hooked up to a VQ V6. They seem to be doing better lately.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatist

      Actually Nissan (possibly Honda) WERE disasters. It got so bad that Nissan had to extend warranties to preserve credibility.

      I have absolutely zero faith that CVTs will ever be a good, reliable transmission. This is purely being done to save fractional fuel mileage.

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        Hey, I wonder…
        If they tested a CVT car per the ludicrous EPA manual cycle (y’know, the one designed to make automatics look good so carmakers can push $1000 AT’s more easily), I wonder what mileage it would deliver?

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    It seems unwise for GM to wait until it has an in-house unit to bring a CVT to market. Third party suppliers have them ready to go. The CVT gives the Nissan Altima a slight performance and economy advantage over the 6 speeds used by GM, and probably costs less to build as well. I haven’t heard an outcry over the reliability of the Nissan units. It looks like Honda is giving up on geared transmissions for its mainstream cars.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I sure hope that GM, unlike Ford, can develop a relatively trouble-free unit. I almost bought an ’07 Ford Freestyle with a CVT and before doing so, consulted a few mechanic friends and a transmission repair shop I trust. I also looked at the owners forums to gather info on their experiences. The consensus seemed to be that they last somewhere between 120-150k miles. That’s about the same as their horrible 4 speed auto from yore. The cost to replace a Ford CVT? About 5 grand. That is more than the vehicle (an ’07!) is worth. Fuggetaboutit!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The best CVT is an electric drive; torque when you need it and economy once rolling.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      And far more reliable if done right. Just look at the planetary gearsets used in Toyota and Ford hybrids — because of their simplicity, those things are unkillable.

      That style of hybrid powertrain really is the best solution these days for appliance cars, especially for buyers who do a lot of city or city-ish driving.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Railroads have been using it for over 80 years now. It better be reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        As the owner of an Escape Hybrid, I’d agree the eCVT is not suited to the sensations performance car drivers think are “normal”. Sure, sometimes it revs too high under heavy load, but I assume the engine is at most efficient rpm’s given the load. Don’t performance car drivers like getting into higher revs?

        The only thing I find unsuitable about the eCVT is the lack of an effective low gear for engine braking down prolonged steep descents on backroads.

        Reverse is electric-only, which has not proven to be a problem unless you try to back over an obstacle from a standstill. In which case if you cannot go forward, you’re stuck.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Engine braking has been designed out of engines for fuel economy. They expect you to ride the vented disc brakes going down a steep hill. Design considerations are ruled by flatlanders.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      THe Accord Hybrid has no transmission.

      “Making It Simple: There’s no transmission—really.”
      http://www.caranddriver.com/features/explaining-the-honda-accords-shrewdly-designed-new-hybrid-system-tech-dept

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Olivia (Munn-ish) glanced at the curb, examining the Purple Ice Sonic. She wondered to herself why her boyfriend chose that color, and why he crossed his legs so much. Adam glanced behind her for a second, muttering “I like that guy’s jeans.”

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Whisper rumor upcoming Cadillac CT1 will look remarkably similar (with empty transformers logo badge) to vehicle in photo.

    Paint color will be known as Unicorn Colostrum.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    The Saturn CVT was a bloody disaster.
    Management dictated two very impossible things from the start: use an existing GM power steering pump as the transmission main pump and must run on conventional Dexron ATF.

    So much development time was wasted trying to make this work. I think they eventually got the pump to last but had to switch to “special sauce” for the fluid at the last minute. The CVT rolling surfaces just won’t run reliably with standard ATF.

    This was one of the most toxic GM product problems in that early 2000s time frame, along with the intake manifold gaskets that leaked coolant into the oil causing engine failures.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You just pointed out the bean counter mentality that has put GM engineers in a straight jacket ever since the divisions were eliminated and headquarters took over. Fortunately, the post-bailout GM run by Mary Barra does it differently now!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    So if transmissions like the planetary drive and electric CVT are more reliable then why are they not used by every manufacturer. Is it cost? It seems that if they are more reliable then they should be used more.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The first practical CVT came out in a little sedan called the DAF, made by the Doornse Automobiel Fabriek in The Netherlands. The CVT was very primitive when compared to today’s CVTs primarily because it was mechanical in nature, but it worked, and they sold lots of them.

      The current CVTs are very different in that they now use very high hydraulic pressure to move the cones and the metallurgy of the metal belt and cones has been greatly improved. Computer control has made ratio-management smooth and can even be programmed to emulate gear-shifting.

      The CVT is going to be the transmission of the future. It is infinitely variable within its range, it is cheaper to make and has fewer parts than a hydraulic step transmission. All someone has to do is invent a CVT that will last as long as the hydraulic step transmissions of old do.

      And someone will. But I seriously doubt it will be GM. My bet would be on Volvo, Nissan, BMW or Honda, although Toyota is testing the waters now, and may surprise all of us.

      The implications of world-wide CVT applications are as lucrative as using gasoline in the ICE. Most vehicles would use them, billions upon billions of them. There’s money to be made here. But GM is an also-ran.

      • 0 avatar

        Just to be exact, the name is “van Doorne’s Aanhangwagen Fabriek” (“‘van Doorne’s’ Trailer Factory). “van Doorne” was the name of the founder, Hub van Doorne. Current CVT’s are more or less based on the original design by DAF, which is quite remarkable for a small farmers country like this. I am quite happy to see the CVT growing up to be a serious transmission in all kinds of vehicles. I think the system is excellent, and these days the issues with it (mated to large capacity engines) are over.

        • 0 avatar
          formula m

          I have both a shaft driven Honda atv and an ArcticCat 700 fuel injected with cvt transmission. I prefer the manual shift from driver feel/control perspective but the cvt puts the power down very well in the ArcticCat. CVT’s have been used for many years now by powersport companies and are ideal for lighter weight applications. I find with current gen ctv’s if the weight is reasonable they can be rugged enough to last. The reliability of the air cooled, shaft driven Honda is tough to beat though.

  • avatar

    GM has outsourced so much of its engineering and design one wonders if they are capable of designing a new transmission. You have to wonder what is the point of GM even existing if they are just going to reuse Daewoo, Holden, and Opel technology. All GM has going for it are a few trucks, some Cadillacs, and the Corvette.

    In terms of engineering GM is actually in worst shape than they were in 2008.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      One wonders if GM is capable of engineering and designing cars and pickup trucks. Buying one of GM’s products often results in a recall for life threatening engineering fails. Even the lowly ignition switch is not immune from the GM SNAFU syndrome.

      At this time in automotive history, the Japanese have designed and engineered the best CVT. And to prove it, they warranty the hell out of it. Yet even the Japanese are far from perfect since even their CVTs will break down much sooner than a hydraulic step-transmission will.

      And a CVT costs much more to fix even though it is a much simpler transmission with fewer parts.

      Still, this is the future of automotive automatic transmissions and GM is trying to play catch-up, as usual.

      My money would be on Ford when buying a CVT designed in America. Ford is on a roll. GM died and should have been liquidated and parceled out to automakers around the planet, like Chrysler was given to Fiat.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think so, concerning GM. I think GM in some parts has reinvented itself, using korean engineering, which is, after a lot of moons, not as bad as it once used to be. Look at Hyundai/Kia. Look at Samsung-Renault. About Ford, absolutely, and that also goes for Europe. Pretty high quality vehicles, nice looking, competitive.

  • avatar

    We are not just talking about cars, but also the lack of American assembly robots and machine tools in the industry. In 1980 the US was the world leader in machine tool production, now it is ranked sixth behind Italy. I remember the CEO of Ford (Peterson?) twenty years ago being concerned about the erosion of the U.S. machine tool industry. This was after ford ordered a giant press from Germany that was to stamp the entire body of the second generation Taurus. The situation has been getting steadily worse.

    This decline in American industrial might is also happening in other industries. For example, Seimens, a german firm, is basically designing and engineering California’s entire high speed rail line..

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      There are multiple causes of the decline of the machine tool industry, but as far as Siemens is concerned, it builds the trolleys in San Diego and is building the next generation BART cars in San Francisco, largely because it has expertise in passenger rail that no longer exists in the US.

      The government’s shift of indirect subsidies (mail) from railroads to the airline industry destroyed passenger rail here, once the world’s best, while the Europeans built an impressive system that’s heavily subsidized with gasoline tax revenue. The subsidies Amtrak gets wouldn’t keep French rail alone going for more than a few weeks, if that.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Hyundai and Kia might surprise all of us and develop a better CVT transmission. The South Korean car companies have been on a roll and have come up with quality that matches Toyota and Honda. Ford is not quite has hot as they were and time will tell if the new aluminum F-150 is as hot on the market as anticipated. Ford has a lot riding on the new F-150.

  • avatar
    pragmatist

    I think we could argue that the Dynaflow was the world’s first production CVT. Not efficient, but probably the smoothest ever.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      My second car was a ’62 Buick LeSabre with the 364 engine and “variable pitch turbine drive”, the name at the time for Dynaflow. It was basically a one speed. I wouldn’t call that continuously variable, more like direct drive.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatist

        Torque converters are not slip couplings, they hydraulically produce speed reduction/torque multiplication

        Actually it was continuously variable, through multistage torque converters (different torque multiplation ranges at different speeds). Additionally some (not sure about your model) one set of turbine blades pass through reduction gears. As the car accelerated, fluid flow diverted from the reduction gear TC to the direct drive one. There was a smooth transition but no shift

  • avatar
    tedward

    I just don’t understand the enthusiasm for CVT’s that I see (only here by the way.) If it’s an appreciation for the technology I can certainly relate to that, as I like to geek out on random bits of auto tech myself. But if it has more to do with the driving experience I’m lost. The best I can say about any CVT I’ve driven is “shrug, it works.”

    I suspect the tendency to support one’s own vehicle purchases may be at play.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatist

      At one time CVTs might have made more sense because engines had very specific efficiency and performance peaks. With the almost flat torque curves of modern engines, and computer controls, the ‘sweet spot’ is much wider and the gear selection is not as critical.

      Aside from arguing about contact patch issues (obviously not talking about the hybrid drive planetaries which are something else again), there are advantages both ways. Geared autos can have a bigger range (low gear to high gear) and can downshift almost instantaneously, CVTs are mechanically simpler and can be made smaller.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        “With the almost flat torque curves of modern engines, and computer controls, the ‘sweet spot’ is much wider and the gear selection is not as critical.”

        Actually, I see gear selection now as more critical, not less. You talk about ‘almost flat torque curves’, yet modern transmissions have more gears than ever in them in order to stay closer to that so-called ‘sweet spot’. I’ve also found that the ‘sweet spot’ in my cars is about 500 rpm higher than the on-board computer wants to shift. By shifting early it loads the engine just enough to sacrifice roughly 10% of the economy you could be realizing at a given speed. Once you’re cruising then a lower rpm is a good idea, but while you’re accelerating or encountering hilly country, forcing the shift points a little higher realizes better economy. I’ve proven this to myself with a Fiat 500 which is far more sensitive to grades than most larger vehicles but learned this long ago when driving ferry runs for a car rental agency in the Rocky Mountains. (My co-workers always wondered how I got through the mountains faster and on less fuel than they did in the same cars.)

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