TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The pitch remains the same for the continuously variable transmission: The design, which does away with a conventional transmission’s fixed gearsets, can deliver a fuel economy hike of as much as 7%-8% compared with a 4-speed automatic transmission.

But 4-speed automatics are going the way of the dodo, and other transmission technologies are emerging to challenge the CVT’s main claim to fame.

Foremost will be increased penetration of 6- and 7-speed automatic transmissions and dual-clutch automated manual transmissions, both of which closely mimic the CVT’s fuel-economy gains.

Nevertheless, Shigeo Ishida, president and CEO of Jatco Ltd., the world’s dominant producer of CVTs, tells the audience at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars there’s a growing market share for CVT technology.

He estimates there will be about 1 million CVT-equipped vehicles sold in North America in 2010, exclusively for front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicles based on FWD layouts.

Ishida says the CVT remains simpler, with drastically fewer parts. There only are three major components compared with about nine for a 5-speed automatic transmission using a torque converter.

Jatco recently completed its first CVT assembly plant outside Japan in Aquascalientes, Mexico. It will produce about 800,000 units annually. Almost all of the capacity will be for North American models built by Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and DaimlerChrysler AG.

Ishida admits CVTs are not ideal for all drivelines, particularly rear-wheel-drive platforms. He expects strong competition from new, highly efficient 6- and 7-speed torque-converter automatics and an increased presence from dual-clutch automated manuals.

“The winning technology has yet to be determined,” he says.