While some of the large Tier 1 suppliers have pulled out of this year's SAE World Congress, Behr America Inc. is taking the opposite approach by increasing its efforts at the industry's largest trade show.
Last year the SAE Congress had limited importance for Behr America, the U.S. subsidiary of German parent Behr GmbH & Co., a supplier of air conditioning and engine cooling systems.
Behr has participated in previous SAE shows but was reluctant to put most of its eggs into the SAE basket. For one thing, Behr was not prominent in the Detroit area. Compared to other major global trade shows, such as the Frankfurt Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, SAE typically had lower customer turnout since the automakers usually don't exhibit.
Hans Lange, Behr America president, said Behr decided SAE would have more importance, not less. That's due to its increased Detroit presence - the company is building new U.S. headquarters in Troy, Mich., that will be ready next fall - and new contracts with DaimlerChrysler AG and General Motors for to supply components for pickups and sport-utilities through 2005.
In 1999 Behr America posted $259 million in parts sales to North American automakers, which ranked it No. 135 on the Automotive News list of top 150 suppliers. The parent company ranked No. 53 on the Automotive News list of top 100 global parts suppliers with 1999 sales of $1.99 billion.
Looking for growth
The SAE crowd includes a captive audience of automotive engineering, purchasing and product specialists, as well as automaker executives checking out the latest and greatest supplier offerings - important contacts for growth-minded Behr America.
Behr figured the SAE would also provide an opportunity to showcase its new 'one-face-to-the-customer' approach, which will be part of the display.
'That means our customers can expect globally consistent standards of service, quality and product technology,' says Lange. 'We want our customers to see one Behr, and we want them to find a competent Behr entity right here next to their development and decision-making centers. This concept also served as the guiding principle for our recent restructuring, which led to an even more customer-focused organization that allows our dedicated customer centers to manage business relationships with their particular customers globally.'
Behr is not taking its SAE participation lightly. Exhibits of the kind it plans can cost up to $300,000, Behr insiders say. This is the company's fifth year at SAE, but this year's display will offer even more technology.
Behr is showing its portfolio of engine cooling and air-conditioning systems and displaying its cooling modules with radiator, condenser and fan; as well as HVAC modules with integrated filters and electronic actuation. Also featured are charged air coolers, oil coolers and thermostats.
New cooling technology
Behr also will shine a spotlight on its new-generation technology in engine cooling fans and clutches as well as components for engine temperature control and electronic thermal management. The new products include:
The electronic Visco fan clutch, designed for light-duty trucks and sport wagons.
Lange, an engineer by background, says the EV clutch system is the first of its kind in North America. 'Further advancements to fan and clutch technology are in the pipeline,' he adds.
Josef Kern, Behr's senior vice president of engineering, says the electronic fan clutch system is long overdue in an industry where such technology is at least 15 years old. 'Electronically controlled fan speed is the best control you can have,' he says. Behr developed a similar fan clutch in Europe for heavy-duty trucks.
The electronically controlled Visco clutch operates the main cooling fan at varying speeds, regardless of engine rpm. This is accomplished using an electronic signal to operate a valve, which controls the fluid flow into a chamber in the fan. The fan speed is determined by the amount of fluid allowed in the working chamber.
Air flow alone doesn't always sufficiently cool the engine. Behr has developed a low-noise, low-cost solution by combining the Visco clutch with a plastic fan, both supplied from a single source and working together. The Visco fan generates 'needs-related' air flow that can be switched off to minimize power loss and noise at high engine speeds, yet maintain the coolant at a relatively constant temperature.
The all-aluminum heat exchanger, or ALEX, radiator which features a new tank design. Where standard radiator tanks add an additional one-quarter to one-third of an inch on each side of the radiator, the Behr tank design has almost no increase in thickness.
Behr's customer base includes Audi, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Saturn, Volvo and Volkswagen. Non-automotive customers include Freightliner, Volvo, Navistar, John Deere, Cummins, and Caterpillar.