Adapting Transmission Technologies to Fluctuating DemandTue, 09/15/2015 - 13:23
Q: How has TREMEC progressed from a sales perspective, and which markets have driven your growth?
A: In 2014, TREMEC produced 62,500 transmission assemblies, of which 52,000 went to OEMs, and 15% of those served the Mexican market. While much of our production goes to the US, we are now seeing some further business opportunities in Europe. In Mexico, we target some pickup trucks in Silao, but most of the assemblies that use our transmissions are in the US. Nevertheless, we know that some of those US-made vehicles will ultimately end up in the Mexican market. Right now, we are trying to target the European market with a niche product. Manual transmissions have become an occasional commodity, so we are trying to expand their reach, not only in the US, but also in the European market. The manual transmission is losing ground, so we need to look for markets that still demand our products.
Q: With new luxury brands coming into the country, what are your plans to target these companies?
A: TREMEC is currently focusing on rear-wheel drive and high-torque applications for niche markets, including solutions for commercial vehicles and performance- oriented vehicles. TREMEC is the expert in these solutions, and we know how mass-production brands operate, so it would be really surprising to see them purchasing a different transmission to what they currently use. It would have to be something completely different, with big changes in costs and technology, and I think most OEMs see it that way. We are capable of achieving this level of innovation, but we are a little behind, especially with small cars. However, we are focusing a lot of our efforts on innovation for power vehicles, as the company searches for the next evolutions in transmission technologies. TREMEC’s products are already used in muscle cars like Corvette, Camaro, Challenger, and Mustang, and our TR-3160 and TR-6060 transmissions are used in Cadillacs. Our unit in Belgium is currently developing DCT transmissions for luxury vehicles in Europe and we are using mechatronic and control software tools for brands like Ferrari and McLaren, as well as Mercedes-Benz’s AMG models. There is fierce competition in the European market, but we are focusing on what we can offer to the clients. Our expertise is with power cars, not mass production and small vehicles, so that is what we are focusing on right now.
Q: How do companies choose which transmission to use in their new models?
A: They need to consider the size and the power of the engine, as well as the size of the whole car. After that, there is a big internal discussion because some OEMs like automatic transmissions and others like CVT transmissions, and they all have their technical reasons for choosing either one. In the end, it is the engineers that make the final decision; it would be very surprising to see Nissan, for example, change from CVT to manual transmissions, particularly considering the investment it already has in place.
Obviously everyone wants fuel efficiency, so TREMEC supplies the lightest 10-speed transmission on the market. We are also working on a lot of new component designs while using hollow shafts and producing smaller gears with greater strength capacity. Belgium is currently improving our designs with carbon and organic-based materials for clutches and synchronizers.
Q: As more truck clusters appear in Mexico, is TREMEC planning a bigger contribution for the heavy vehicle segment?
A: TREMEC is currently working on 10-speed manual transmissions with an advanced design we call TR- 10. Thanks to its aluminum housing, this heavy-duty transmission really trims the weight without sacrificing the system’s strength. Within this segment, we are trying to develop new lighter transmissions, but already possess a line of medium-duty and heavy-duty applications, as well as pickup truck transmissions. For this particular market, even without the full transmission we can use our capabilities to help with different components. For commercial vehicles, our most popular product in Mexico is the AMT transmission. On light vehicles however, the trend is to move toward CVT systems that we do not have at the moment. This is because most OEMs have their own products or companies that fabricate transmissions especially for them. Nissan, for example, has JATCO all to itself, and this company only produces CVT products. Therefore, our main focus will be with DCT transmissions for other markets and AMT products for Mexican commercial vehicles.