Fallbrook Follows Qualcomm’s Patent Strategy With Innovative Transmission For Vehicles

10/14/08Follow @bvbigelow

Bill Klehm may not be aware of his wordplay when he says, “We’re seeing significant traction in the European bicycle market and in light electric vehicles.”

Klehm, 45, is the chief executive of San Diego’s Fallbrook Technologies, a startup that has been developing an innovative transmission without gears. The company says its “NuVinci” technology is scalable and improves acceleration, performance, cost, and overall vehicle efficiency over conventional transmissions.

Fallbrook’s transmission, designed by San Diego inventor Don Miller, is known as a continuously variable planetary transmission, or CVP.

Unlike a conventional transmission, which uses a set of gears with specific fixed-speed ratios, a CVP uses a mechanism that changes seamlessly as a drive train accelerates and decelerates. In effect, the system provides an infinite number of gear ratios between its highest and lowest speeds.

NuVinci transmissionAt a time when U.S. automakers are reeling from the 2008 spike in gasoline prices and a litany of other problems, Klehm says, “I can accurately describe us as being overrun with requests to build transmissions for electric vehicles and for hybrid vehicles.”

The company, which has raised about $25 million from more than 80 private investors is not yet profitable. But Klehm remains optimistic, saying Fallbrook Technologies has been extending its business beyond bicycles and light electric vehicles such as golf carts.

Fallbrook’s seven-member board of directors includes Gary Jacobs, a San Diego investor and son of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs; Gary Weiss, whose Weiss Group provides management, advisory, financing and executive search services to growth companies; and James Bartlett, a retired principal of Cleveland-based Primus Venture Partners.

Miller, a bicycle enthusiast, developed his original CVP design while tinkering in his garage to develop his concept for “the world’s fastest bike.”

Other continuously variable designs use belts, pulleys, and various doughnut-shaped designs, but Fallbrook’s design uses a set of steel balls to vary the transmission’s speed ratio. The balls … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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