Please note this article was published in March 2013 and the facts and opinions expressed may no longer be valid.

China gears up

Local transmission production looks set to soar

Western car makers are investing in production facilities in China to ensure they can meet demand. However, the majority of transmissions for these vehicles are currently imported. Insight speaks to Dr Shuhan Wang, Director of Engineering Technology at Shengrui Transmission Corporation Limited, about their efforts to change this trend.

From its beginnings as a diesel engine component manufacturer, Shengrui has developed alliances with strategic partners, which have allowed it to expand and diversify.

Today, the company specialises in the research, development and production of both diesel engine components and automatic transmissions (ATs) for OEMs including Weichai Power, Deutz, AGCO and the Fiat Group. Based in Weifang in the Shandong Province to the east of China, the organisation is in a convenient location almost equidistant from Beijing and Shanghai.

Shengrui began developing its 8-speed automatic transmission in 2007 following an agreement with the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany.

Dr Shuhan Wang

“We chose the 8-speed because it was the most advanced technology at that time and Toyota and ZF were the only other companies developing them,” explains Dr Wang. “We selected Ricardo Engineering as our design partner because it has a proven track record of designing transmission products for OEMs and the capability to manufacture transmissions at its R&D centre in the UK.”

“As the only front-engine front-drive advanced transmission, our 8-speed has given us the opportunity to transfer Shengrui from a labour intensive manufacturer to a scientific and technological enterprise. Over the past five years we have worked hard on its development and now have a product of which we can be very proud.”

Designed with fuel economy in mind

Shengrui selected the automatic transmission as its preferred technology route over dual clutch (DCT), automated manual (AMT) or continuously variable (CVT) technologies.  Automatic transmission technology was attractive to them for three main reasons:

  • First, it is the most mature one in China and, since its development in the 1930s, has reached above 80% market share among all advanced transmissions (i.e. AT, CVT and DCT).
  • Second, its driving torque range provides the widest application coverage, from small cars right up to huge tanks, with excellent extensibility and high dynamic performance.
  • Third, the technology is more suitable for the traffic jams and harsh driving situations in our Chinese cities.

The new Shengrui transmission combines a high number of gear ratios with minimum shift components. “All the other 8-Speed ATs are front-engine rear-drive, we have developed the only front-engine front-drive 8-speed forward gear transmission. It comprises three planetary gears, three spur gears and five clutches, and we have applied for a number of patents to protect our technology.”

“Our biggest technical hurdle now is finding components and parts of a suitable quality, which means establishing a robust vendor system.”

Of course in today’s demanding world, fuel economy has played a big role in the transmission’s development. The system uses a Continuously Sliding Torque Converter Clutch (CSTCC) in low-speed high-torque conditions, where small sliding controls are applied to improve efficiency.

 “We have been able to test our technology at the Xiangfan testing ground of the China Second Automobile Group. The results of this work demonstrate excellent fuel economy with performance equivalent to that of a 6-speed manual transmission.”

From our own perspective we were keen for Dr Wang to tell us about how advanced fluids can support this transmission and help to enable fuel economy gains.

“One of the key performance requirements is friction durability, and by that I mean because the friction characteristic is dependent on temperature we must ensure stability is maintained at different temperatures. Other fluid requirements include: shear stability and the seal compatibility of rubber components.”

The growing market

With the huge growth in demand for vehicles in China it goes without saying that we can expect a healthy future for the transmission market.

The questions that remain are how fast will locally produced transmissions become a commercial reality and how well will local companies be able to penetrate the market?

“Our current mass production schedule ramps up pretty quickly - we aim to produce 20,000 units this year, and 100,000 in 2014.”

“Because these figures are based on supplying two customers and four car models, we believe the schedule is quite feasible. In the longer term we plan to steadily increase production to reach one million units in 2020.”

“ We are very optimistic about China’s AT market. And, as long as we provide reliable and high quality products, I believe the application prospect in the future is beyond measure.”

Shengrui has plans to ramp up transmission production quickly in the coming years

Planning for the future

Dr Wang told us that among the automatic transmissions, including AT, CVT and DCT, ATs account for more than 80% of the Chinese market and that the market is currently thought to be growing at around 35%, which far exceeds the growth rate of finished automobiles.

In this exciting growth market Shengrui has firm plans for expansion. “We already supply transmissions for the Jiangling Landwind, and the Haima Knight Model and we are entering into discussions about model layout with a number of other local OEMs including Chang’an Auto, Great Wall Auto, BAIC, GAGC and Second Auto.”

In the more mature markets in the west we are already seeing increasing electrification and hybrid transmissions as OEMs look for improved fuel economy, we asked Dr Wang if these trends are likely to be part of Shengrui’s future product developments.

“At the moment, hybrid applications in Chinese markets are not mature. Our next work plan is to develop 130 Nm to 200 Nm transmission, which will be mainly applied in mainstream A level cars and B level cars in the Chinese market.”

“We are working on the research for a start-stop application to improve the fuel economy of the transmission and we have plans develop a 9-speed automatic transmission in the future.”

Clearly, in this growing market, Chinese manufacturers will be working hard to ensure they significantly increase their market share, which means there will be a significant increase in the demand for advanced fluids.

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