Transmission technology group Torotrak is to step up its R&D work with developers of hybrid car engines in a bid to position itself as the gearbox of choice for the emerging sector.
Lancashire-based Torotrak claimed its infinitely variable transmission (IVT) technology could complement the fuel economy benefits of hybrids by helping their engines run at maximum efficiency. IVT uses a variable geometry disc and roller system to supply torque, doing away with the need for a torque converter or clutch and allowing the engine to operate at optimum revs.
Torotrak is claiming fuel economy benefits of 20 per cent or more for cars using the system, and said it could be used to overcome inherent inefficiencies in some types of hybrid engine. The increased focus on hybrids was one of a string of initiatives outlined by Torotrak as it gave its shareholders a lengthy and relentlessly upbeat view of its prospects alongside its year-end financial results.
The company has previously faced criticism for failing to market its technology effectively, but made it clear it is now leaving no stone unturned in its search for possible routes to the production line.Although its losses grew to £7m the company claimed it was in a strong position with cash in the bank and growing access to key decision makers in the automotive industry.
Torotrak believes that forging strong relationships with transmission suppliers including Equos, one of the world’s leading developers of automatic gearboxes, will provide it with a way into the new product development programmes of their customers, the major automotive companies.
The UK company claimed several years of knocking on the doors of the transmission industry were paying off, with IVT increasingly on the agenda between gearbox manufacturers and car OEMs.
Torotrak said it is now looking for opportunities elsewhere in the automotive sector including buses, trucks and specialist off-road vehicles such as agricultural equipment. Entry to these markets would be helped by the latest development of IVT called total off-road control (TORC). This uses a custom-designed driver interface to offer features such as anti roll-back, hill hold and highly accurate crawl control.
One of the enduring frustrations for Torotrak in its dealings with the mass car market has been the extended time that it takes new technologies to reach the production line. ‘The product development process in the off-highway industry is shorter than is typical in the automotive sector,’ the company told its investors. ‘This means that prototype to market launch can be as short as two years.’
The first IVT-equipped vehicle is due to begin production next year, according to the company.
Torotrak said it had also been approached by manufacturers in the bus and truck sectors, where it claimed IVT could deliver a range of benefits in terms of smoothness of ride, fuel economy and lower emissions.