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Focused On Energy

Prior to joining Exide Technologies last year as its chief operating officer, Craig H.

Prior to joining Exide Technologies last year as its chief operating officer, Craig H. Muhlhauser was president of Visteon Corp., the since-independent-from-Ford automotive supplier company. Muhlhauser had been with Visteon from the outset of its formal existence in September, 1998, when he began as its vice president of Global Marketing, Sales and Service. One of the big challenges that he and his colleagues faced at Visteon was trying to win business from manufacturers other than the parent company (while, of course, not offending the parent). Muhlhauser also had to help Visteon employees to understand that even though a breakaway from Ford was eminent, there could be success and reward after they were outside that environment.

Exide is an established company, one with a strong market share in the automotive battery business (OEM and aftermarket), as well as in other sectors. Annual sales are on the order of $3.2-billion. Yet given financial and product developments, Exide is in many ways like a start-up company, both in good ways and...trying ways. Muhlhauser, who clearly thrives on a challenge, admits, "My job is one of turnaround and repositioning."

It is one part management and one part technology. From the management side, Muhlhauser admits that it is a "difficult time for all of us." There are recent layoffs throughout the organization: line and staff. There have been plant closures. The headquarters moved from Reading, PA, to Princeton, NJ. He candidly acknowledges, "The first challenge here is to restore the employees' confidence in management." So, with respected auto industry veteran Robert A. Lutz as chairman and CEO, Muhlhauser and other Exide execs are working to generate that confidence.

For one thing, Muhlhauser says that he is working to provide "full transparency" by providing regular communications to the organization about what is going on. What's more, from an individual point of view, they are working to clarify expectations and to make sure that issues of accountability and authority are clear: "We want to make sure that everyone knows where they stand."

Muhlhauser's goal is to develop what he calls a "results-oriented culture," a place where there are rewards and responsibilities, where there is respect, trust, and diversity. Muhlhauser doesn't shy away from talking about the fact that times are trying for people at Exide. Yet he is fully committed to finding the ways and means to create a new culture, not only through things like acquisition (e.g., at the end of September, 2000, Exide acquired GNB Technologies, a supplier of transportation and industrial batteries, an acquisition that puts Exide in the number-one or number-two position in all markets it serves—but it also caused the closing of a number of facilities, from manufacturing to distribution, and a consequent layoff of numerous people), but by actively working with its customer base and with other suppliers (e.g., it is working with automotive interior and electronics supplier Lear Corp. to provide advanced interior electronics technology).

Muhlhauser also says, "We are focusing on product quality and integrity, and driving waste out of our manufacturing and supply processes. We are getting a better understanding of the metrics that drive our business—not only cost, but safety, quality, delivery, and employee morale."

From the technology point of view, things are increasingly interesting. "Historically," Muhlhauser notes, "the battery has been somewhat of a commodity." But with changes in technology, the commodity plays a big role in the way things work. As Muhlhauser puts it, "Electrical system architecture is becoming a key part of vehicle design."

One of the things that will have an enormous effect on companies such as Exide is the seemingly inexorable move toward 42-volt systems in vehicles. The driver to go from the now-standard 12-v to 42-v is simply the increasing load on the electrical system that results not only from the more exotic things like telematic systems, but simpler but still power-draining devices like the electric motors for power windows. And when there are things like electric brakes in vehicles...well, 42-v is inevitable.

A key component in the move to 42-v is the alternator; because it can be made smaller in a 42-v system, as can the starter, it is anticipated that there will be a combined starter-alternator. "To be effective," Muhlhauser says, "the 42-v supplier will need to supply a control module, an integrated starter-alternator, generator, and storage device. Since we are totally focused on storage, we're aligning ourselves with a tier-one supplier to supply integrated solutions." He adds of the move toward 42-v, "We have a number of active programs with the OEMs."

The transition to 42-v will likely occur in two stages. First there will be a hybrid, or dual system: 12-v and 42-v. The reason for this is simple: there are just too many electrical components in a car to be redesigned all at once. For example, there are issues with things like light bulbs: run 42-v (actually, 36-v will reach the components in a 42-v system) through today's light bulbs and the frequency with which the bulbs will need to be changed will be incredibly annoying.

Muhlhauser estimates the hybrid versions will start appearing in the 2003-04 timeframe. Then he foresees that there may be full 42-v systems by 2005-06. Of course, that's a guess. A knowledgeable guess, but a guess just the same.

And beyond the transition to a dif-ferent electrical architecture, Muhlhauser muses, "And then there are the hybrid- and fuel-cell powered vehicles..." for which, of course, batteries are vital.

Also, there is a whole new trend in packaging—and in what's inside the package. For example, they are pursuing what's called "dual-graphite battery technology," which not only provides a high power-to-weight ratio, but has the potential to provide three times as much power as conventional production batteries. It is also smaller and provides flexible packaging opportunities.

They are working on batteries that have wound plates rather than flat ones. They are looking at places where batteries can be deployed in a vehicle rather than just under the hood. Because Exide provides batteries for a variety of applications and industries in addition to automotive—stationary energy storage, telecommunications, material handling, military—Muhlhauser sees the opportunity for there to be considerable learning—organizational and technological—throughout the business.

"As we look to the future, and we see people becoming more mobile"—and more well connected and with more comfort options—"we see the need for stored energy increasing—and we are the only company dedicated to it." There's one characteristic that Muhlhauser has in addition to his thriving on challenges: he's focused on the future and how they're going to get there. It may be one step at a time, there may be some rough patches, but his energy is focused.