Raising the bar in developing center stacks and other driver controls, their products are unmatched by any others on the market.
One of the leaders in the production of advanced driver control systems is the German company Preh GmbH. In becoming an authority in this area, Preh brings an incredible amount of development expertise – pioneering center stack control systems and center consoles, with controls for multifunctional menus that eliminate the need for a multiplicity of switches. Next generation interior controls include slick black panel surfaces with a haptic feedback, touchpads and other touch-sensitive control surfaces that confer a positive perception of the overall vehicle by consumers.
Nick Lontscharitsch, president of Preh, Inc. in North America, says, “Our control systems not only provide innovative solutions, but their look and feel ensure a superior appearance, creating a strong impact in the vehicles where they are used. We call it the ‘Pre(h)mium’ look and feel.”
Current top models featuring Preh control systems include the Audi A8 and BMW 7-Series. Preh systems are also used in the exclusive Lamborghini Aventador, the Rolls-Royce Ghost and the Bentley Mulsanne. Preh developed and built two of the main switch centers for the interior of the Bentley, including the multifunction switches in the steering wheel, as well as the control system for the infotainment functions. In addition to the luxury segment, Preh also supplies systems across the whole model range – the climate controls for the Volkswagen Jetta and the Audi A1, for example.
In North America, Preh’s climate control systems are included in the Ford F-150 and its big brother F-250 and 350 models. The systems were developed at Preh headquarters in Germany, and are manufactured at the company’s plant in Monterrey, Mexico. Center stack control systems for GM’s Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain are also run on the plant’s production line. With a market share of around 50%, Preh is one of the leading suppliers of central control systems, such as BMW’s iDrive controller.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show 2011, Preh demonstrated a center console design with a touchpad that can be integrated into the surface of a central control system. The new center console includes a black panel surface with a screen that displays various menus that are selected by a rotary push button with an integrated touchpad. The touchpad can be used in “write” mode for selecting the navigation destination by finger-written characters. Scrolling through a menu, such as a phone contacts list or a list of songs, can be easily accomplished by swiping gestures on the touchpad surface.
Preh engineers have also developed multifunction switches for the steering wheels of various VW models, including the VW CC, which are only 12 millimeters high, in spite of integrated electronics and a LIN interface. They are currently the flattest switch systems of their kind. The company manufactures switches for the Volkswagen Group in its Mexican, Romanian and Chinese plants, the latter being Preh’s most recent addition to its global manufacturing footprint.
Automotive Industries asked Nick Lontscharitsch how Preh became a leader in climate control systems:
Lontscharitsch: Preh has designed and manufactured climate control systems for more than 25 years, including the corresponding climate control software. Over this time, we have produced semi-automatic systems, single-zone systems, fully automatic multi-zone systems, and even special climate control solutions for tractor cabins. We can develop and manufacture systems for OEMs that best fit their model strategy.
AI: A new specialty for Preh is battery management systems for e-vehicles. How will they be a growth area for Preh?
Lontscharitsch: Hybrid and fully electric cars both have elaborate electronic circuits that integrate with either stand-alone battery power sources or those backed by internal combustion engines with the vehicle’s drive system. With these vehicles, OEMs are assigning varying levels of responsibility for battery management systems between themselves and outside system suppliers. Preh has proven competency in the development and production of electronic control units (ECUs), and has been awarded a contract for a new electric vehicle’s ECUs for battery management from a premium-segment OEM. These are ECUs with a sensing function that permanently monitor the voltage and temperature of each battery cell, which is then passed along to the battery management unit.
AI: What kind of vertical integration does Preh have that adds competitive advantage to your future developments?
Lontscharitsch: Overall, we find that vertical integration is indispensable in achieving the high quality of our manufactured products, giving us a competitive edge. Years ago, we made a deliberate decision to keep our major competencies for the development and manufacture of control systems, sensors and electronic control units all under one roof. Preh can manufacture a climate control system in which more than 90% of the added value is in-house. The physical proximity of the development and production areas facilitates internal communications, and this benefits the customers as we can react in the shortest time possible to changes and additional requests.
AI: How does Preh see itself positioned following its global strategy of the past few years?
Lontscharitsch: At this point, our global positioning is outstanding, and we are poised for substantial growth into the next decade. Most recently, the takeover by Joyson Automotive has given us added growth impetus with our OEM customers in China, with better access to the Chinese domestic procurement market, along with a strengthened equity position and significant capital increase. We are well-positioned in Europe with plants in Germany, Portugal and Romania. In North America, we are now number two in climate controls, thanks to the fast expansion of our Mexican production facilities. Our larger global footprint, based on our internationalization strategy, has become very important to the high growth of the past few years.