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JATCO puts its CVT transmission business into overdrive

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Mar. 6 — Fuji, Shizuoka — Just south of Mt. Fuji is the Japanese manufacturer producing nearly half of the world’s high-end CVT transmissions, JATCO.

The Continuously Variable Transmission is used in most Nissan vehicles and by other automakers including Suzuki and Renault, while JATCO also makes a DC converter case for the Nissan LEAF.

Tech upgrades are frequent with the CVT 8 the latest in a belt-product line starting in 1997, and more innovations are on the horizon, says JATCO’s Chief Engineer Hirofumi Okahara.

“There is even more room to improve the efficiency of the CVT. For example, a (wider) ratio coverage, with a more powerful start and acceleration, while remaining quiet at high speed. Although we cannot it achieve now, I believe there will be innovations in the future through continuous advanced research and development, so we can adopt our CVTs to a wider range of models,” says Okahara.

Global expansion in Mexico and China has put JATCO close to customers’ plants, while total CVT production to date exceeds 10 million units.

A deep domestic production base allowed JATCO to sidestep the crippling bottlenecks hitting other parts and chips suppliers after last year’s disasters in northeastern Japan, but big earthquakes are common near the Fuji headquarters and staff prepare accordingly, says General Manager Tetsurou Watanabe.

“We are now developing a system for factories to support each other in case of disaster. Through our experience with earthquakes, it’s rather easy to create preventive measures for hardware, such as machines or equipment that can tip or fall down, but the difficult challenge is whether the production line can avoid risks, or whether the suppliers can avoid output risks,” said Watanabe.

With a new Thai factory coming on line next year, global CVT output is expected to hit 6 million units annually by mid-decade.

CEO Takashi Hata sees global sales seen rising to 1 trillion yen, or $12.5 billion, by 2018.

“CVT production today is almost two-thirds of our total output and there is a tendency to increase the CVT proportion because of the advantages, the efficiency of the fuel consumption, and also the acceptance by a wide range of markets and of customs,” says Hata.

With more CVT supply coming on line, JATCO’s overseas output share will exceed 70% in six years, helping to offset another headwind for Japanese manufacturers — the strong yen.

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