Andrew Pontius is passionate about sound -- so much so that he has a collection of about 30 pairs of speakers at his home in Columbus, Ind., including a 12-speaker home theater system.
So it's no surprise that Pontius has made a career out of engineering sound -- the kind of sound vehicles generate from their exhaust systems. Pontius, 45, now director of product design and development for North American emissions control at Faurecia, equates tuning a car's exhaust system to tuning a musical instrument.
Pontius and his team of 35 engineers at Faurecia's emissions control research lab in Columbus are facing a new kind of challenge these days. With strict corporate average fuel economy requirements looming, carmakers are transforming the powertrain landscape by turning to hybrid-electric powertrains, diesels or smaller, slower revving engines. They're also boosting power with turbochargers and adding multispeed transmissions.
But a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, no matter how powerful, isn't going to give off the same throaty growl as an old-fashioned V-8. So Pontius and his team are working on ways to compensate by digitally creating exhaust sounds that sound sexier -- piping them through a speaker adjacent to the exhaust system. It's called exhaust dynamic sound technology.
Faurecia also is working with new valves that will help carmakers quiet the tractorlike low-frequency sounds some newer engines give off without taking up lots of space under the car with a large muffler.
It's all part of making more planet-friendly cars that customers will still want to buy.
Pontius has been working on exhaust systems since he started his career in 1988 as a technician for AP Parts International, which was bought by Faurecia in 2002.
Pontius relishes tackling divergent challenges, such as the opportunity Faurecia gave him to switch from product development and run its just-in-time exhaust assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, in 2007.
"In that one year we doubled our number of employees, doubled the plant size and doubled our revenues," he said. "It was the most fun I've ever had in a job -- so fast-paced and so satisfying to work in a production facility."
During his career, Pontius picked up another skill that eludes some engineers -- being able to explain complex technology in layman's terms. With modern engines, he said, "people need to understand they're either going to get a hair-dryer sound or something synthetic."
As for career aspirations, Pontius said: "I would like to have responsibility for innovation globally."
He believes a collective effort will be required to rethink the way cars sound both inside and out.
"The interesting thing going forward will be for the automakers to divide up that NVH domain between what they want to do with the tailpipe and what they want to do with interior noise control. I don't see this as an either-or proposition. You could have the car sounding one way on the outside and one way on the inside."
-- Bradford Wernle