Electric Avenue

Over the last 100 years, there have only been five automotive megatrends that have significantly affected our company. The first of these was fuel, the second was hydraulic braking, third was air conditioning, then came reduced emissions, and now there is electrification of the vehicle powertrain.

With electrification coming to the fore, thermal management systems are now in the spotlight. The fluids within vehicles are used to heat or cool the key components that electrify the vehicle – the electric motors, power electronics and the battery. Thermal management is needed to optimize the vehicle for peak performance. For example, a battery functions best when in a narrow temperature range which means that it must be heated or cooled to achieve maximum range and performance.

We’ve been able to adapt our fluid carrying products and our manufacturing assets to meet the thermal management requirements of electric vehicles. Our HVAC team – now known as Thermal  – reacted to the shift to electrification and the opportunities that could come with it long ago, even when gasoline and diesel powertrains were still on the industry’s front burner.

Working closely with our global OEM customers as well as numerous battery manufacturers, we were able to understand where the world’s automotive market was heading. The message was consistent: electrification is going to be the future. Fortunately for us, this was a shift that we could really take advantage of through our product portfolio.

The hybrid electric and battery electric work that we have undertaken over the past several years has all stemmed from the early initiative of our HVAC team. The automotive industry’s journey towards electrification has started and is now accelerating. That’s why we are committing more knowledge and resources to our growing electric vehicle product portfolio. While the market for vehicles powered by internal combustion engines will shrink over time, it will not disappear overnight. So, we will continue to support our customers with market leading gasoline and diesel products as the industry shifts to electric vehicles.

Technology Ahead of Its Time

Over the last ten years, our product offering has taken huge strides forward.

The shift from steel to plastic tanks in the late 1990s facilitated this progress, and laid the foundations for our current Fuel Tank and Delivery Systems division. One of our unique competitive advantages has been our capacity to provide OEMs with a complete fuel tank system, and this advantage has now been bolstered by new technology.

In 2009, we won an Automotive News PACE award for our Ship in a Bottle (SIB) tank. The SIB fuel tank changed the way plastic fuel tanks were made. By integrating the fuel system components into the tank via a preassembled carrier, we developed the world’s first plastic PZEV fuel tank.

T7 PHEV TankAs revolutionary as our SIB technology was, the 10-inch plastic parison opening that was required meant that it was limited on some applications. So, towards the end of 2013, we showed off our adaptable plastic fuel tank advanced process technology (TAPT) at the tank.tech conference in Munich. The TAPT technology used existing blow molding to separate a pre-formed, blow-molded parison into two halves while a robot inserted the fuel system components into designated areas of the tank assembly. TAPT could operate without size or location limitations.

The first TAPT tank was produced in Rastatt, Germany, and was used by Mercedes-Benz for the 2014 S-Class, a model that is renowned for being a standard-bearer for technology breakthroughs.

TAPT proved to be groundbreaking. It was the first application of our flexible manufacturing process that was designed to solve the integration of components in a traditional powertrain with a complicated saddle-shaped tank. TAPT made it possible to produce multiple types of fuel tanks for all types of powertrain, be it diesel, gasoline, flex-fuel, partial zero-emission vehicles (PZEV), or hybrid. What’s more, this is all possible via a single design blow tooling set.

Importantly, TAPT technology enabled hybrid vehicle manufacturers to accelerate the replacement of steel fuel tanks with plastic ones. Delivering plastic fuel tanks for hybrid-electric vehicles was beginning to set us apart. We were adapting our technology for the future, though even our engineers may not have recognized how quickly those advances would come into play…