Thursday, July 12, 2012

BMW Sued Over MINI CVT Transmissions

This report appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 11, 2012:
A group of plaintiffs’ lawyers in Florida filed a lawsuit against BMW AG’s Mini compact-car unit, alleging a “manufacturing defect” in the continuously variable transmissions — known as CVTs – in certain Mini Cooper vehicles causes premature transmission failure.

This legal action marks the latest round of rumblings over the CVTs in earlier Minis that have developed reputations for poor reliability. Indeed, online Mini discussion groups for years have buzzed with unflattering comments about the cars’ CVTs. Similar lawsuits in other states allege the car maker cut corners in building the transmissions to lower costs.

BMW did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

According to the new suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Miami, the problem affects Mini Cooper hardtops built from 2002 through 2006, and Mini Cooper convertibles built from 2005 through 2008. The suit includes vehicles sold in Florida and alleges the car maker violated the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act .

CVTs vary the ratio between a vehicle’s engine and wheel speed in a seamless manner instead of shifting among distinct gears the way traditional transmissions do. Because they constantly adjust the effective gear ratio based on engine speed and other driving conditions, CVTs are, in theory, more efficient than typical automatic transmissions.

Mini and other car makers tout CVT-equipped cars for their smooth operation and superior fuel economy. However, CVTs have a history of durability problems dating back several decades and were out of favor for many years. Over the past 10 years or so CVTs have made a comeback as car companies look more aggressively for ways to save fuel and make cars easier to drive.

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