Issue: Apr 2012


Focus on innovation to drive auto industry into future



Innovation

by Nick Palmen

Innovation is the fuel that powers the motor industry. One of the leaders in the field is ITT Motion Technologies. 

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Luca Savi, president of Motion Technologies, at ITT, how much emphasis the company puts on research and development.

Savi:
Innovation is a key differentiator for ITT, and we invest heavily in R&D. We are investing 1.3 times more than what the competition is doing in research and development. 

AI: What are the main markets that ITT is targeting for investment?

Savi:
Looking at the Motion Technology business, geographically we are expanding into China and North America. We are also developing new products and mixes that will enable us to continuously differentiate ourselves from the competition, and enable us to maintain our technological leadership.

AI: What are the key elements and targets of your strategy?

Savi:
I would summarize it with three points:

1. Differentiate from the competition through better products and friction solutions.
2. Superior customer experience.
3. Deliver real business value to our customers and our customers’ customers.

AI: What efforts do you make to support the global needs of the OEM’s around the world?

Savi:
I would like to give just two examples here:

1. Development of global products to support the globalisation of OEM product ranges.
2. To stay close to the OEMs wherever they are - i.e. local service delivery. An example of this is our investment in a new plant in Wuxi China. Besides the Wuxi factory, ITT has invested in seven other manufacturing enterprises throughout China’s major cities, including Shenyang, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Shenzhen. 

AI: Tell us about your co-operation with OEMs. What projects are you working on at the moment?

Savi:
Since the start of its activities in the 80’s, ITT has been focusing on meeting the needs of OEMs. It was the right decision then, and it is still right today. We are very proud to have the opportunity to develop and deliver a tailored solution to the more successful OEMs.

AI: What are the biggest challenges in meeting OEMs high technical standards and safety criteria?

Savi:
At this moment the main challenges are linked to the opportunity to develop green products for our customers. One example is providing copper-free products for all the different NAO and LOW STEEL applications. Legislation will allow the use of copper in the short term, but the trend is towards paying more and more attention to key and limited resources like copper.

AI: What progress is ITT making in the development of products for electric vehicles?

Savi:
Plug-in electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technologies have the potential to displace a significant portion of transportation petroleum consumption by using electricity for all or portions of given trips. A couple of years ago, ITT accepted the challenge to work on its own EV application. Ours are a bit different compared with the classical electric vehicles, where the technical differentiators are the weight distribution (the load is displaced on the back due to the batteries) and the brake application conditions.

Looking at the braking, we must take into account that the electric engine itself can reduce the speed in the first part of a braking cycle. The brakes start working only at lower speeds. This means that the friction material has to be modulated in order to work properly. In addition, in order to save energy, the friction material must be more stable under pressure and temperature to get a lower residual torque. ITT also had to modify the composition of the material and the heat treatment to produce the desired characteristics.

AI: What is the market potential?

Savi:
Market analysts are predicting that the EV positive trend will continue, and the expectation is that sales of electric vehicles will total about 10% of the global production by 2025. This will mean over 10 million vehicles worldwide. Even in this case, despite the current volumes, ITT decided to have a dedicated team focus on the definition of specific materials for these new vehicles.

AI: What would be the key differentiator between the conventional cars and the electric vehicles in the future?

Savi:
Electric vehicle or hybrid electric vehicle technologies still have to overcome some technical challenges. The energy storage system, cost, volume, weight and overall life are the major obstacles in expanding the market. The key differentiators between the conventional vehicles and the electric ones will be the comfort (EV are completely silent) and the absence of pollution in terms of exhaust gases and fine particles. Those factors will become the drivers that will extend the EV market share of urban vehicles.

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