Seat’s Gearbox Points Way to Auto Tech Innovation

Seat will be supplying gearboxes across the Volkswagen family’s brands in a move that points the way automotive technology innovation should be going.

VW announced this week that Seat Componentes, together with Martorell and Barcelona one of the three production centers for the Spanish sub-brand, has started production of the new MQ281 gearbox. Up to 450,000 units can be built per year and will be used by the Audi, Seat, Škoda and VW.

Thomas Schmall, chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen Group Components, said: “The start of production of the new MQ281 reveals the advantages of our new Group Components unit. We use cross-brand hubs for the configuration of our plants and for production, creating the freedom and flexibility that we urgently need for the transformation to electric mobility.”

The fact that Seat is the chosen producer of the gearbox will not come as much of a surprise to journalists who have driven and compared different transmissions from VW Group brands. I recall driving one of the first Seat Leon Cupra R hot-hatches that many of us thought would simply be a slightly modified version of VW’s Golf GTI. Yet, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Firstly, obviously in a bid to save costs and bring the lesser known brand competitively into the hot-hatch market, a lot of the car’s sound-proofing had been stripped out along with other comfort feature technologies. The result, at least from a sports-driving enthusiast’s point of view, was a car that was much lighter and more exciting to drive than its overweight brätwurst-munching sibling.

Yet, even more enticing, was it’s super-slick manual gearbox that allowed as near an experience of ‘playing tunes through the ratios’ as I had experienced since the sad demise of the dash-mounted PlayStation-like shift stick in the MkII Honda Civic Type R. The Cupra R’s lovely five-speeder was worlds away from the heavy and woolly item fitted in the Golf GTI of the time.

After the test drive near Seat’s headquarters in Barcelona, I had the chance to quiz a factory engineer about the difference in transmissions and he explained that they had completely reworked the shifting mechanism to improve the speed of change and shorten the stick’s throw. It’s this mindset that will prove an enormous advantage to the carmaker’s parent company.

By allowing innovation from individual engineers and working enthusiasts within its sub-brands, VW have a resource that money just can’t buy. That’s because these people are users of the technology and constantly thinking of how things can be improved – something a robot will never be able to achieve.

So let’s be certain, the road to achieving real gains in automotive technology will always be paved by the inspiration and passion of people working in this industry and that any automation of carmaking processes must be dedicated to increasing the human ability to create and innovate.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


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