Neon lights up gearmaker

Chrysler agrees to try out Antonov’s new-style six-speed gearbox in its latest saloon

By Hugh Sharpe

The Antonov automatic gearbox has received a major boost now that Chrysler has agreed to develop and install a version of the new-style six-speed transmission in a prototype version of its Neon car.

The gearbox will be tried out early next year. If successful it would replace the three-speed hydraulic automatic in the Neon. This is holding back the sales potential of the saloon, which competes with cars such as the Ford Mondeo, claimed the Antonov camp.

Antonov claims the six-speed is exceptionally efficient because of its wide ratio flexibility. Its systems absorb no engine power, but operate from axial thrust and centrifugal forces within the transmission.

Mike Emmerson, managing director, said the six-speed is 10% more efficient than a five-speed manual box, and 30% more efficient than a conventional hydraulic box.

It even beats by 15% the efficiency of Antonov’s own four-speed system. `It’s horses for courses; manufacturers would choose four or six-speed according to model size and other requirements,’ he said.

In volume production the six-speed would cost between £50 and £100 per unit more to make than the four-speed, which costs around £400, said the company.

`Even the six-speed costs some £200 less to produce that a conventional four-speed,’ said Emmerson.

Antonov has also achieved its first breakthrough into commercial production. It has licensed its system to the Indian transmissions-maker Gajra which will install it from next year in the Suzuki/Maruti range, India’s most popular cars.

A development contract with Honda will also be completed this summer. A decision on a hoped-for production licence is expected then.

Speculation that encouraging news was in the offing pushed up Antonov’s share price. The company called for its Aim quote to be frozen to prevent a `disorderly’ market developing.

The quote, up some 30p at 116p, just ahead of suspension, resumed at around that level when it was restored last Friday. The share has ranged from 121p down to 48p over 12 months and remains speculative.

To finance the Neon programme, and to beef up Antonov’s `power at any negotiating table’, the company has raised a net £3m in a placing of new shares at 87p. The offer was over-subscribed three times.

Some existing investors have also sold 6.2m shares at the same price. They include founder-chairman and inventor Roumen Antonov, who sold 1.1 million shares but retains 15% of the enlarged equity.

With a large Dutch content on its share register, Antonov plans an Amsterdam Stock Exchange listing.