DETROIT – Joining the ranks of automakers and suppliers expanding in Mexico, Schaeffler will begin construction on a new in plant in Puebla to deliver torque converters by the end of this year.

The German components manufacturing conglomerate has had a facility in Puebla for more than 25 years that currently assembles dry clutches for dual-clutch transmissions for Ford.

The existing site employs 1,200 people and the new torque-converter plant next door eventually will have 400 workers, says Bruce Warmbold, president and CEO of Schaeffler Group North America.

The new operation in Puebla will be an extension of Schaeffler’s Wooster, OH, facility, which serves as the supplier’s global center of expertise for torque converter design and assembly.

Each year, Wooster delivers about 2 million torque converters to customers globally, while clutch output at the existing Puebla plant is about 700,000 units annually, says Norbert Indlekofer, a member of Schaeffler’s executive board and its co-CEO of the automotive business.

“It’s a good problem that we have to increase capacity,” Indlekofer tells WardsAuto after Schaeffler’s press conference here at the North American International Auto Show.

Ford currently is the supplier’s only customer for a dry clutch assembly for a DCT.

“But we have some developments with other customers, and it’s a very important product for us globally, especially in Asia/Pacific and in Europe,” Indlekofer says.

The customer base for the new torque converter site in Puebla will be diverse, starting with the Detroit Three but eventually serving transplant OEMs in North America as well, Indlekofer says.

Initially, these torque converters will be mated with 6-speed planetary-gear automatic transmissions but later launches will accommodate 8- and 9-speeds as well.

As vehicle sales rebound from the dark days of 2008 and 2009, suppliers have been strapped to keep pace, especially those that were forced to downsize and close plants.

“Certainly I think coming out of 2009, it was a steeper ramp than everyone expected,” Warmbold says.

“Fortunately, Schaeffler is investing in the capital and the technology so we can stay ahead of the curve. By doing that, we’ve been awarded these new programs. The German culture was to continue to invest during those down times, including in North America.”

In a private suite at the newly refurbished Cobo Center, Schaeffler also displays its Efficient Future Mobility North America concept car, a Ford Escape integrating several fuel-saving technologies.

The Escape, with a 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. mated to an automatic transmission with a torque converter, incorporates a thermal management module and all-wheel-drive disconnect clutch, as well as a permanently engaged starter generator that allows a vehicle to be driven for longer periods with the engine switched off. The system then ensures smoother restarts of the engine.

All together, the technologies help the Escape achieve a 15% fuel-economy gain over the standard 2.0L Escape.

Schaeffler more than a year ago developed a similar concept based on the Porsche Cayenne that delivered a 10% fuel-economy gain compared with a standard Cayenne.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com