Mahle, one of the world's top producers of engine components, is figuring out how to electrify the vehicle.
The idea is to run a car's accessories -- such as water pumps, brakes and power steering systems -- with electric motors rather than belt drives off the engine. By eliminating parasitic energy losses, Mahle can improve fuel economy, a priority for its customers.
Roland Zitt, 64, president of Mahle Industries Inc., the company's U.S. unit, described Mahle's strategy during a phone interview with Staff Correspondent David Sedgwick.
Q: In June, Mahle acquired Kokusan Denki, a supplier of electric motors. What will that accomplish?
A: Kokusan Denki is a very successful company that makes electric motors for brakes, dynamic suspension and other functions. We are building a portfolio in mechatronics. Once it reaches a certain size, it could become a separate business unit.
That would offer very good growth prospects, right?
Absolutely. Since we are pretty much in the top three in our core business units already, we expect more growth in mechatronics. We now have a new chairman [Wolf- Henning Scheider]. He will consider this business strategy with his team.
In June, Mahle opened two plants in Mexico to produce air cleaning systems and HVAC units. Will Mexico get most of Mahle's North American production?
Our strategy is to produce components close to our customers. While all of our business units are in Mexico, they also are in the United States and Canada. We have experienced more growth in Mexico, but that's driven by our customers' expanding production there. We are not in Mexico for low labor costs. We are simply following our customers into different countries.
On the tech side, Mahle has developed a climate control system that can cool turbocharged air channeled into the engine. What does that accomplish?
If you can cool the air temperature, you can force more air through the turbocharger. That improves fuel economy.
Mahle acquired climate control specialist Behr in 2013, followed by Delphi's thermal unit this year. Will Mahle challenge Denso, the top supplier in this segment?
In our key product lines, our goal is to be one of the top three suppliers. The HVAC market is saturated, but there is still some growth in regions where not every vehicle has air conditioning. We will grow with the market. We will not push to be No. 1. Denso occupies it. We just want to be the most competent supplier, and with that will come growth.
Has Mahle integrated the Behr and Delphi operations?
We have fully integrated Behr activities into our portfolio on a global basis. Obviously some things, like certain management functions, take years to complete, but I'm very comfortable saying that Behr has been fully integrated. With Delphi, we only took control on July 1. A lot has been accomplished, but the consolidation is ongoing. Two of the r&d centers are in North America. An integration on this scale does not happen overnight.