The key to reducing emissions such as oxides of nitrogen and particulates from vehicles is staying cool, say engineers at Behr GmbH, the German engine cooling and air conditioning specialist.
High temperatures in the combustion chamber contribute to the formation of oxides of nitrogen, as well as particulates in diesel engines. A common strategy to lower the temperature in the combustion chamber is exhaust gas recirculation, which mixes some exhaust gas in with the intake air-fuel mixture.
Leaning on its expertise in engineering cooling modules for both vehicle engines and interiors, Behr has developed a line of coolers for recirculated exhaust gases.
Cooling the recirculated exhaust gases offers two advantages:
1. Cooled exhaust gases reduce temperatures in the combustion chamber, cutting the amount of oxides of nitrogen and soot generated.
2. When exhaust gas is cooled, less of it is needed to control the combustion chamber temperature. That means more air is in the cylinder; smaller volumes of air contribute to the formation of oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
Sales volumes of cooled exhaust gas recirculation systems are increasing, says Rudi Ludwig, marketing director of Behr, which is privately owned and based in Stuttgart. Behr's customers include BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen.
Behr expects many heavy-duty vehicles in the United States to be fitted with exhaust gas recirculation systems by 2002.
Systems, not modules
Expansion into exhaust gas recirculation systems is part of Behr's growth from a parts maker into a systems supplier. But Behr does not expect to make a move into fully integrated cockpit modules.
'Besides the heating, ventilation and air conditioning module in the dashboard, you also have all the air ducting and the outlets in the car,' says Markus Flik, Behr's r&d manager. 'We don't believe carmakers will outsource development of entire cockpit modules, with all the ventilation, electronics and so on, to a single supplier. The complexity is too high, and this is a core competency of the carmaker.'
Instead, Behr is concentrating on what it calls an integrated submodule.
'Our submodule consists of key heating and air conditioning elements, together with essential air ducts,' says Flik. 'It will form the core of a ventilation system. We have developed the submodule ourselves, and we are working with several customers to make it into a serious production project.'
Behr has grown rapidly in the past few years as the installation of air conditioning units has increased sharply in Europe. 'In 1990, only 12 percent of new cars sold in Europe were fitted with air conditioning,' says Ludwig. 'Last year we estimate the rate was 63 percent.'
Behr also has expanded internationally. It has benefited from an air conditioning boom in the North American truck market, although sales were hit by a slowdown in the second half of 2000. Behr is the main supplier of engine cooling and air conditioning parts to BMW's factory in Spartanburg, S.C., which builds the X5 sport-utility and the Z3 roadster.
Open to ventures
Some of Behr's recent growth has been through joint ventures. 'Our strategy is that we stay independent in our core regions. In peripheral areas, we form joint ventures,' says Ludwig.
'For example, in India we have a joint venture with the Anand group. In Japan we are forming joint ventures with Toyo Radiators in engine cooling and with Sanden in air conditioning,' he says.
Toyo Radiators has a 25 percent share of the engine cooling market in Japan and a broad customer base, says Ludwig. Behr's 50-50 joint venture with Sanden will begin operating as a sales and development company in the next few weeks. Eventually it will produce heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for the Japanese market.
'At the same time, we are also forming strategic alliances in large-scale systems, such as joint ventures with (German lighting and electronics specialist) Hella on front ends and electronic controls,' says Ludwig.
Behr recently reorganized its operations to achieve a more international structure. It now has regional customer service offices throughout Europe, the United States and Asia.
Behr opened an office in Tokyo two years ago. That led to the contacts with Sanden and Toyo.
Behr places a major emphasis on research and development, and invests around 7 percent of its sales in this area each year. Behr had group sales of $1.62 billion in 1999.
Edmund Chew is a staff reporter for Automotive News Europe