DETROIT – Ricardo Inc., developer of the 7-speed transmission for Chrysler Group’s ME412 supercar concept unveiled at the auto show here, says it is looking for possible partners to produce dual-clutch gearboxes in volume.

Ricardo produces the transaxle for the new Ford GT supercar, and it has supplied units for other limited-output models such as the Jaguar XJ220 and McClaren F1.

But the industry movement toward new, double-clutch transmission technology is pushing the U.K.-based engineering specialist toward a bigger-scale venture, says Peter Brown, vice president-powertrain projects and design.

“We’re comfortable with volumes around 2,000 to 3,000,” Brown says. “But for larger volumes, we’re looking at alliances with other transmission manufacturers.”

Ricardo designed ME412’s 7-speed manual in less than six months.

Driving Ricardo’s interest in manufacturing is the mini boom under way in double-clutch transmissions.

Brown says Ricardo has seven dual-clutch programs under way involving everything from super cars to more conventional mass-market vehicles.

He says most of those programs are for European manufacturers, with the earliest debuts likely around 2005. But there are “a few programs” in the U.S., as well, he says. Those likely would see market introduction in the 2006-2007 time frame. Most of the programs are for transmissions of six speeds and up.

Currently, only Volkswagen AG offers a dual-clutch gearbox, developed with BorgWarner Automotive and available in the Golf R32 and Audi TT. (See related story: VW Launches Radical Dual-Clutch Automated Manual Transmission)

“It used to be, we were taking the concept to auto makers and trying to get them interested in the technology,” Brown says. “Now they’re coming to us. We see (dual-clutch transmissions) as one of the biggest growth businesses for us.”

Brown says the dual-clutch transmissions will be more expensive than conventional manuals, about the price of an automatic. Shifting is smoother than in conventional manuals, he says, and fuel economy should be better because the design allows the engine to operate closer to optimum speeds.

The 7-speed dual-clutch manual in the Chrysler ME412 supercar prototype was developed in just six months. Ricardo was able to tap into its existing dual-clutch development for the program, but the unit uses no carryover parts from other transmissions in the company’s portfolio.

The prototype was built in the U.K. by Ricardo’s motor sports operations. It is designed to handle the ME412’s 850 lb.-ft. (1,150 Nm) of torque, which Chrysler says is available from 2,500 to 4,500 rpm.