A glimpse behind the scenes of MAHLE Powertrain

Several jumbo jets without engines here, a few old sport aircraft there. Between them a discarded trailer from a shipping company: the scenery at what was formerly Bruntingthorpe airfield in the English Midlands seems somewhat bizarre. The silence is broken by a thundering silver VW Golf. A racing car secretly making its first laps on the test track? The roaring engine suggests this may be the case. “It can really take off, don’t you think?,” laughs Mark Underwood, accelerating the Golf on the back straight that once saw Royal Air Force machines take off and land.

Later, when Underwood allows a look under the hood, the surprise is huge. The charge air cooler with the bold MAHLE logo hides anything but a large-volume engine. “The displacement is only 1.2 liters. But the Golf has more than 260 hp,” explains the young engineer, grinning with satisfaction. He is one member of a very talented team, which has developed this highly impressive demonstrator, and such a speedster is totally to his liking. “I have always been fascinated by cars and technology,” he explains. He is currently spending some of his free time trying to give an old hatchback somewhat more pep for the racetrack—with the engine of a sports car.


However, Underwood is not whizzing around the test track in Bruntingthorpe for the fun of it. The data from each lap is meticulously recorded on a laptop and later evaluated at MAHLE Powertrain in Northampton, 40 kilometers away. Over 400 MAHLE colleagues are based there, providing top-notch engineering services for the global automotive industry. This is where the engines are tested and analyzed, ranging from mechanical inspections through to complex optimizations in drivability. “Manufacturers very much appreciate the fact that we are often way ahead of the market and can respond very quickly to customer demands at the same time. For instance, when it comes to optimizing engines or even developing completely new units,” explains Simon Reader, Head of Engineering at MAHLE Powertrain UK.

It is interesting to note that there are a lot of young people on the company premises. “This is a visible sign that we are continuing to grow,” says Marketing Manager Daren Mottershead, reinforcing this observation. In 2016 alone, 40 new colleagues were recruited in Northampton. And more are still needed due to the enormous demand from customers. The young engineers come to the East Midlands from universities and colleges spanning the entire United Kingdom. In addition to an exciting job, the young people can also find affordable accommodation and pleasant living conditions here. This is in total contrast to London, where the cost of living is astronomically high.


The specialists at MAHLE Powertrain have also enjoyed an outstanding reputation for generations. Legendary powertrains have been developed here for decades. The engineering company was known as Cosworth Technology before MAHLE took over in 2005. All are incredibly proud of this tradition to this day. As a matter of fact, all of the engines for the Formula 1 racing cars —with the exception of Ferrari—were developed in Northampton in the 1970s. Today, the former racing division of Cosworth operates under this name in the immediate vicinity.

However, the momentum for the powertrains of tomorrow comes from the rather inconspicuous brick buildings across the way. “Through MAHLE, we have gained a much larger operating radius,” reports Reader. “Today, our customers come from Europe, the USA, China, and the Middle East.” In the meantime, the MAHLE subsidiary has accordingly adopted a global position. What’s more, it can fall back on the broad expertise of an established group, which has long-standing experience of the entire powertrain. And it goes without saying that MAHLE Powertrain is right at the forefront when it comes to shaping change in the automotive industry. “With the hybridization of vehicles, we are no longer just talking about engines. We are now tackling more and more cross-system projects,” says Reader, explaining the new strategic orientation of MAHLE Powertrain.

This approach means that the knowledge of the developers in Northampton needs to be as broad as it is deep. Mark Underwood, who joined MAHLE Powertrain as a graduate more than five years ago, reports from his own experience: “It takes more than a year until the newcomers can really tackle projects by themselves.” By then, the specialists from Northampton are so well acquainted with the technical details of the powertrain and control that they can achieve noticeable improvements from an engine. For example, by making a decisive contribution to the design process or the design of new components. Or— like Underwood—by developing the software for the ECU, which is responsible for the precise management and control of the engine.


In Bruntingthorpe, the team tests to see whether the supposedly underpowered Golf can be adjusted to attain the performance profile of a sports car, for example. “We want to show our customers that powertrains can also be designed differently,” explains Reader, Head of Engineering. From his point of view, small engines have a great future for various reasons. On the one hand, as impressively demonstrated by the MAHLE Golf, driving pleasure need not necessarily depend on a large displacement. And by using the electric motor as a support unit for the combustion engine, the latter can also be somewhat smaller in future.

The experts in Northampton, however, are concerned with much more than engines in the compact car category. Parked in the courtyard—well shielded from prying eyes —are vehicles that would make any sports car enthusiast’s heart beat faster. And on the former Bruntingthorpe airfield, whose access is likewise heavily regulated, one of Mark Underwood’s colleagues announces himself with a British luxury brand as he prepares to flash past the discarded aircraft at high speed. Under the hood of this GT car is yet again a machine that will undoubtedly power a new model one day—equipped once more with lots of new technology and know-how from MAHLE Powertrain.

Video: MAHLE Powertrain

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