The “news” per se at MAHLE Powertrain (www.mahle-pwertrain.com; Novi, MI) is that the company now has the wherewithal to perform super ultra-low-emissions vehicle (SULEV) testing capabilities. Which, Bruce Woodrow, chief engineer at the facility, explains is important, especially as time marches on to 2009, when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is requiring vehicle manufacturers to sell a significant portion of their fleet in the state meeting those regulations (e.g., a level of 0.030 g/mile of Non-Methane Organic Gas [NMOG] + nitrogen oxide [NOx] at 120,000 miles). While Woodrow admits that most OEMs have the wherewithal to do this testing, not only does MAHLE now have the ability to offer this to smaller vehicle manufacturers that may not have the equipment, he notes that because it is an EPA- and CARB-recognized laboratory, they can submit data directly to those organizations for certification of vehicles. (This capability is ordinarily limited to labs associated with an OEM. In MAHLE’s case, it is a result of the company having been Cosworth Technology until early in 2005, a firm owned by Volkswagen Group.) Woodrow goes on to say that another benefit is to European manufacturers who are submitting vehicles to U.S. regulators in the U.S. That is, while OEMs are likely to want to submit vehicles directly to the EPA so that there is less likelihood that the EPA will come back at a later date and ask for a recheck of a given vehicle, Woodrow says that a European OEM might have MAHLE check the vehicle out before it goes to the EPA, thereby having a better assurance that nothing went awry when the vehicle was shipped over.
But what is in some ways more interesting than the fact that they can do SULEV testing in Novi is the sort of thinking that is exhibited there. That is, the simple way to achieve that capability would be to buy new equipment and analyzers. But what they did at MAHLE was to take their existing analyzers that were setup for ULEV levels (which would be on the order of 0.125 g/mile of NMOG + NOx @ 120,000 miles), tested and updated them, made sure that there were clean gases, and separated the collection bags so that there were those that are clean and those dirty. Overall, they managed to get to the SULEV capability at, Woodrow says, about one-fifth the cost of an entirely new system.
This sort of imaginative thinking applies in other ways. In addition to providing powertrain testing and diagnostic services, there is a MAHLE subsidiary that operates in the Novi facility, PowerWorks (www.powerworks.net), which engineers aftermarket supercharger kits. One vehicle that they developed the supercharger for is the Ford F-150 with the 5.4-liter V8 engine. During the development, Woodrow recalls, there was a need to perform durability testing to make sure that putting on the supercharger wouldn’t have a deleterious effect on the transmission. Yes, they have dynos in the facility (including a rig that can perform all-wheel-drive testing), but they wanted some real-world info for transmission calibration. So they fitted an F-150 with the supercharger, loaded it to the full gross vehicle weight, and put a trailer on the rear hitch. “Then we looked for hills,” Woodrow says, adding, “but in Michigan, we couldn’t find many. So we went back to an idea that we dismissed originally, which was to run on freeways.” Now rolling along on freeways isn’t going to exactly overtax the system. Which is where clever thinking comes into play. “We modified the idea. We had the durability drivers come off at every exit on the freeway, then do a wide-open-throttle acceleration to get back onto the freeway. That way there was a constant high-load-cycle going on.” (The supercharger, by the way, not only boosts horsepower from 271.1 to 414.8 and torque from 310.8 lb-ft to 464.4, but it has a CARB EO (Executive Order) number, which means it is emissions-legal in all 50 states.)