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Evolution of Foreign automatic transmissions technology.

Motorization started in Japan in the 1950s. Although automobile manufacturers were independently promoting research in automatic transmissions, their technological skills were not sufficiently advanced and they were compelled to rely on overseas manufacturers by purchasing finished products or introducing technological expertise. Automakers moved ahead with the full-scale development of automatic transmissions with the establishment of Aisin Warner (currently Aisin AW) and Japan Automatic Transmission Co., Ltd. (currently JATCO), both specialists in the production of automatic transmissions, in the 1970s. Growth and development persisted at a rapid pace as the manufacturers sought to stay in line with social trends and now Japanese products continue to gradually exceed the products of manufacturers overseas in terms of performance, quality and cost.

From the 1970s to the early 1980s
Shortly after the launch of full-scale domestic production with the cooperation of manufacturers overseas, strong demands arose for resource and energy conservation prompted by the oil crisis in 1973, marking the start of technological innovation for the realization of improved fuel efficiency. The shift point was first of all converted to electronic control and a lock-up mechanism was added. Demands then arose for even better fuel efficiency at the time of the second oil crisis, stimulating the development of multi-speed automatic transmission (from 3-speed to 4-speed). The downsizing of vehicles in turn led to the downsizing of automatic transmissions as well as an increase of front-wheel drive vehicles. The number of vehicles equipped with them rapidly expanded in the domestic market as these innovations improved the performance of automatic transmissions. Whereas fewer than 10% of all vehicles were equipped with automatic transmissions in the early 1970s, this rate grew swiftly to more than 50% by the 1980s.

Mid to late 1980’s

Along with the increase of automobiles equipped with automatic transmissions, the demands that drivers had of automatic transmissions also went through a transformation. The popularity of DOHC, turbo and other high performance engines led customers to expect not only easy driving features but also superior drivability combined with high fuel efficiency. This trend initiated the slip control of lock-up clutches and fine- tuned electronic control of clutch clearance and pressure, eventually evolving into the hi -technology integrated control of automatic transmissions coupled with the engine.

All the while, the JR502E, the world’s first electronically controlled 5-speed automatic transmission, developed by JATCO in 1989, was installed in the Nissan Laurel. The aims of the development of this automatic transmission were outstanding acceleration performance in conjunction with the quiet high-speed running and better fuel economy.
Five-speed automatic transmissions were also released by Mercedes-Benz that year, followed by ZF the next year, marking the advent of the era of multi-speed automatic transmissions.

Meanwhile, in addition to these geared automatic transmissions, gearless drive mechanisms, which had long been the subject of R&D and were partially in use in Europe, were also gradually being adopted at this time for practical use in the domestic market. Starting with the steel-belt CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) Nissan and Suzuki both released automobiles with CVTs in 1992 and Honda mounted a CVT in its compact car Civic in 1995.

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