STUTTGART – Getrag GmbH & Cie KG, the German manual transmission specialist, has seven contracts to produce dual-clutch transmissions (DCTs) for vehicle projects launching between 2007 and 2010.

The transmissions, pioneered by Volkswagen AG and Audi AG in 2003, rapidly will displace both manual and conventional (torque-converter) automatic transmissions in the market over the next 10 years, Getrag Executive Vice President Bernd Eckl says.

Getrag also has five additional contracts pending, he says.

The company and its joint-venture partner Ford Motor Co. are investing more than €600 million ($725 million) in capacity for 700,000 units annually, beginning in 2007.

The contracts in place anticipate 600,000 units of production in 2010, meaning Getrag already is approaching its 2010 DCT capacity.

The Getrag Ford Transmissions GmbH joint venture is putting €340 million ($411 million) into a plant in Kechnec, Slovakia, for front-wheel-drive transverse-engine transaxles in 2007, with a capacity of 400,000 units. (See related story: Getrag Begins Construction on Slovak Plant )

Getrag is investing a similar amount to retool most of its plant in Neuenstein, Germany, to make larger DCTs for a rear-wheel-drive luxury car and a front-/all-wheel-drive car with a longitudinal engine.

Motorcycle transmissions now made for BMW AG and Harley Davidson Motor Co. in Neuenstein will move to the Slovakian plant in 2006 to make room for the DCTs in Germany.

Of Getrag's seven contracts, five are with European makers (including Ford), one is in North America and one is in Asia.

BorgWarner Inc., which is building a new factory in Tulle, France, for a DCT, says it has three contracts in Europe. (See related story: Dual-Clutch Transmission Manufacturing Rapidly Expanding )

Both BMW and Ferrari SpA are expected to switch from their in-house developed automated manual transmissions to DCTs, and Toyota Motor Corp. is thought to be developing a DCT with Aisin AW Co. Ltd., a Japanese specialist in automatic transmissions, for use in Lexus vehicles.

The technology involves a manual-transmission gear set with two built-in clutches, one controlling the odd-numbered gears, the other the even-numbered gears. Electronic controls assure that when one clutch is engaged with a gear, the second clutch is disengaged with the next gear pre-selected.

When it comes time to change gears, one clutch is opened while the other is closed, assuring uninterrupted power reaching the wheels.

Gear changes are ordered either electronically, or by the driver operating them in a sequential fashion with steering wheel paddles or gearshift.

Because the transmissions have no torque converter, there is less parasitic loss than with a standard automatic, and Getrag says fuel efficiency gains can range from 10%-15% in VW Golf-sized cars to 4%-8% in luxury vehicles.

Dual-clutch gearboxes will cost about the same as a normal automatic step transmission until volumes get higher, says Eckl, but Getrag is convinced Europeans will dramatically abandon manual transmissions over the next 10 years.

The supplier predicts manuals will drop from 80% of the European market now to 67% in 2010 and 54% in 2015. Automatic transmissions and continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) will decline from 17% of the European market now to 14% in 2015, Getrag says.

Automated manual transmissions will climb from 2% now to 3%, it says, but applications will shift from passenger cars to light-commercial vehicles.

In North America, Getrag predicts dual-clutch technology will take 4% of the market in 2010 and 7% in 2015, drawing share equally from automatics (now 87% penetration) and manual transmissions.

In Asia outside Japan, Getrag sees DCTs growing to 13% by 2015, when 65% of vehicles still will have manuals and 22% will be step-automatics or CVTs.

Getrag is prepared for expansion in the Asia/Pacific region. In January it completed a joint venture deal in China with Jiangling Motors Co., the maker of the Landwind SUV exported to Europe and publicly humiliated last fall by failing an industry group crash test in Germany.

The new company, owned 67% by Getrag and Getrag Ford, has factories in Nanchang, Ganzhou and Yudu, China, making manual and automated manual gearboxes for 14 customers there. Volume is expected to be 550,000 units annually within three years.

The company already makes some Getrag-designed transmissions, such as the MT75 for the Ford Transit, and it says some Chinese customers are asking about DCTs.

Getrag spends about 10% of its revenues on research and development every year, of which 15% is basic research and the rest application development with customers.

At its headquarters technical center, 120 employees make 2,000 prototype transmissions per year with €56 million ($68 million) worth of machinery.

The company on average is awarded 20-30 patents a year, says Stephan Rinderknecht, vice president-research and development.

Getrag is looking beyond the petroleum era, developing 2-speed transmissions for electric motors that would be used in the far-off future of battery-powered or fuel-cell cars. In the shorter term, it is integrating electric motors in its DCTs for hybrid-drive projects.