The engine is a real power pack: a swept volume of 6.3 liters and more than 500 HP drive the Dodge standing nearby. Despite the impressive performance figures, this is an everyday car—at least in the USA. In the neighboring stand are RAM pickups; these are powered with engines that are fitted in medium-duty trucks in other parts of the world. At the Detroit Motor Show, American automobile manufacturers are primarily demonstrating how they interpret mobility— or rather, what expectations customers have when they buy a car. The principle: a little more is welcome. Just think big.

“The challenges facing the North American market cannot be compared with those in Europe or Asia,” explains Scott Ferriman. The MAHLE Vice President of Sales in the United States illustrates the difference using a Chrysler Pacifica, which was just recently named “Utility Car of the Year,” or most useful everyday car, at the most important American automotive show. “This is a typical second car with which mothers drive their children to school or do the shopping,” says Ferriman, explaining the seven-seater’s general use, which has a length of more than five meters.


When it comes to automobiles, North America is a world of its own. “MAHLE is very successful here because we meet the exact requirements of this market,” Ferriman proudly emphasizes. “Although our products are global, we were able to adapt perfectly to local conditions.” Indeed, there is a lot of MAHLE technology in the Chrysler Pacifica: the power cell unit, intake manifold, air cleaner module, carbon canister, and last but not least, the HVAC module including compressor. Numerous MAHLE products can also be found in the pickups. For Ferriman, precisely these vehicles, which are primarily used across the length and breadth of America, are evidence that the combustion engine will still play a very influential role for a long time to come. And what may at first come as a surprise in view of the current debate: the pickup manufacturers are increasingly opting for diesel technology.

MAHLE is already working closely with customers on the development phase of new models. In Plymouth/Michigan, about half an hour’s drive from Detroit, MAHLE Powertrain is working on new solutions. We are not talking about individual components here, but rather complete systems and engines. “Customers come to us because they appreciate our flexibility and expertise,” Hugh Blaxill confirms with satisfaction. He is Head of Engineering at the powertrain branch in Plymouth. This is where MAHLE develops solutions specifically for the American customers. “One of the reasons is the particular consumer expectations in this region. The legal requirements and other technical standards are also different to those in Europe or Asia, for example.” The customers also appreciate the special software knowledge of the MAHLE experts in Plymouth, confirms Rob Vischer, Sales Manager of MAHLE Powertrain North America: “For instance, we are currently working intensively on solutions to further protect the complex systems of modern vehicles against cyberattacks.”

Large engines and big car bodies should not obscure the fact that the automotive industry in North America is also in transition. “The Chrysler Pacifica is a good example of this. It is the first in its class to be equipped with a plug-in hybrid drive. Electrification is also in full swing here,” asserts Scott Ferriman during a tour of the Motor Show. An e-drive in conjunction with a combustion engine: here he sees a strong trend for his market. All the manufacturers exhibiting their products in Detroit are presenting appropriate solutions: European, Asian, and even all the major American suppliers.


As far as Ferriman is concerned, hybrid drives will play a large role in the future: “This form of electrification also means that the combustion engine will still be used for a long time to come. With our dual strategy of optimizing products for the internal combustion engine and concurrently developing products for e-mobility, we are therefore absolutely on the right path at MAHLE.” When it comes to its e-mobility solutions, MAHLE has even adopted an offensive approach at the Motor Show in Detroit. Particularly striking is the “bad boy,” a kind of golf cart with rough tread wheels. With an electric drive on both axles, you can even negotiate difficult terrain. “We want to show that we are already in a position to offer solutions that are ready for series production—from auxiliary aggregates through to fully electric vehicles,” stresses Ferriman. “Our company embodies the transition in drive technology and that is exactly what we want to show here.”

Cut to the west coast of America: there, Mauricio Silva is completely in his element when he is on the road with an electric car. “The acceleration! Incomparable!,” he enthuses. The sleek car is virtually silent as it hums through the streets of San Francisco. He sails past the famous cable cars in the Tesla “Model S.” The tram, which masters the steep streets with the aid of a steel rope, is proof that they were pioneering innovative drive concepts as early as in 1873. You don’t need to worry about being stranded on the wayside with an empty battery when traveling with an electric car, Silva assures: “The infrastructure is currently very good— at least here in California.”

In terms of e-mobility, California is thus several vehicle lengths ahead of the other U.S. states. Numerous electric vehicle manufacturers have set up their company headquarters between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Mauricio Silva has also been running a MAHLE office there since mid-2016. In the heart of Silicon Valley. Tesla, Google, or Apple are only a few minutes’ drive away. “We want to establish contacts and of course show what we at MAHLE have to offer,” he explains. In fact, the company can score points on the electric vehicle market with a whole series of products. “For example, we have solutions which optimally control the battery temperature,” explains Silva. This is crucial, because the energy storage systems develop a considerable heat when they deliver power, and even fluctuations in the outside temperatures can quickly have a detrimental impact on the precious cruising range. Besides battery conditioning, for which the MAHLE Thermal Management business unit is responsible, the newly founded Mechatronics division offers a series of electric drives for main and auxiliary aggregates—and is focusing more heavily on passenger car applications.


However, new players in the field of e-mobility not only need different products to those of established vehicle manufacturers. Mauricio Silva also knows that the newcomers to the automobile market have quite a different approach. “They move at a much different speed and are very open to innovation. Like everyone who works in Silicon Valley,” indicates Silva. And end consumers opting for an electric vehicle also have different habits to those which are customary in the market. Americans normally want to immediately take their car with them when they go to a dealership. In the case of an electric vehicle, however, they will need to reckon with waiting times of several months. In many respects, the transition in North America has already begun.

Video: Think big. And Electric.

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