Auto Service World
Feature   December 1, 2007   by Andrew Ross

Real Innovations Hit Equip Auto

Visitors to the huge Equip Auto exhibition were greeted by a sound unfamiliar to North American trade show attendees: the clink and clatter of plates, cutlery, and glasses.

As is the unique case with European trade shows, booths are filled not with meeting rooms and product displays, but with tables, chairs, coffee bars, and stronger drinks on tap. One exhibitor recreated an Irish pub, while another a tropical poolside bar; talk of business was still central, but often muffled by the presence of a raised beer glass.

So it was with this backdrop that the biennial Paris show was presented, in a paradox that saw it as the best ever in many ways, and possibly the worst-attended. While a rail strike kept many prospective attendees from reaching the remote Parc d’Expositions, it was also one of the best Equip Auto events in terms of the product introductions it hosted.

At trade shows around the world, product awards are often presented to items with questionable widespread benefit to the industry. Neat and cool often trump real-world impact. This was not the case at Equip Auto, where some truly significant introductions were announced (see sidebar). Even so, two rose to the top of this writer’s list.

For reasons of innovation and sheer courage, the Ferodo Thermo Quiet launch, which won its category in the Grand Prix, may not seem that innovative from a North American perspective, but in the European market, where original equipment is viewed as the standard, it represents a significant step.

Ferodo, a Federal-Mogul brand that has heretofore not been emphasized in the North American market (though this is in the process of changing), has taken an evolution of the Wagner Thermo Quiet technology to a market not used to challenges to the supremacy of the OE standard. And it’s better than OE, says the company.

“Brake dust on a wheel was a badge of honour,” says Kevin O’Dowd, brand manager for Federal-Mogul. That is no longer so much the case, he adds. “What needs to happen now is to have people looking at noise abatement.”

And this is precisely what the company is responding to.

“We were studying the market and this is an emerging need.” He admits that offering a “better than OE” product in Europe is a new approach.

Competitors at Bendix provided a bit of a reality check on the initiative.

“The link with OE heritage is extremely important. The pricing in the market is linked to this OE relationship,” says Udai Krishnan, marketing director of Honeywell’s Bendix business in Europe. “The logic of presenting something better than OE is novel. It is extremely difficult to convince somebody driving an Audi that we in the aftermarket have something better, but I give [Federal-Mogul] credit for trying.”

Federal-Mogul president Jay Burkhart, whom I caught up with after the company won its award, was veritably beaming with pride. Speaking of the proliferation of brands and technologies globally, he says that barriers are going to fall. “What used to be part of the import specialist will become mainstream. We have put an inventory of Ferodo in Alabama and it will be made available to all WDs.” The reason? “All markets are going to need all products. We see North America as an OE-style market; we see Europe as more of a branded market.”

It is also a market that is seemingly obsessed with the need to state the carbon impact of virtually every product. From a better, lighter brake rotor from Brembo to the Valeo torque converter and Luk wheel bearings, all noted small impacts on fuel efficiency.

None, however, held a candle to the Valeo camless cylinder head. While the promise of a camless approach to the cylinder head has been the subject of much development over the years, real-world examples have been restricted to the world of high-end motorsport, where pneumatic valve activation has allowed 18,000-rpm engines, with the downside being that sometimes they just stop when a pump fails.

With its system, Valeo is convinced that it has a system suitable for use on production vehicles, and promises a reduction in fuel consumption by an astounding 20%. “This is a must to develop engines that will be less polluting,” says a Valeo spokesperson. And with that claim, it is hard to disagree.

Of course, not everything is about products. Frank Ordonez, Delphi’s chief executive in charge of the Service Solutions business, once again dedicated a significant portion of his official comments to the company’s drive to emerge from Chapter 11 status in the U.S., and to building confidence in the company’s stability. He has given much the same speech, with updates, at every major event since the company entered Chapter 11 in October of 2005. More interestingly, he also announced new developments in the diesel service market–Diesel Pont–what we would call a banner program, which launched in the Czech Republic just prior to the show. He also spoke of the Delphi Service Centre concept, which, he said, “is a concept you are going to see around the world.” Together they form the basis for the basic theme that the new service market, or at least the future one, will be as much about diagnostics and reprogramming than replacing parts.

This statement leads handily into the fact that the Right to Repair campaign received its official launch in Europe during the show, in the presence of an international cadre of aftermarket executives, including Ray Datt, outgoing president of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada.

The Motor Vehicle Block Exemption Regulation (EC) No. 1400/2002, which protects competition and consumer choice in the parts and repair sector in Europe, will expire in 2010, and its renewal is uncertain. “Unless we act now, the future of the independent automotive aftermarket and the freedom of consumers to choose is in jeopardy,” emphasized both Michel Vilatte, a board member of FIGIEFA (the aftermarket distributor association in Europe), and Bert Mons, secretary general of EGEA, the garage equipment association.

“The question, ‘Do we have the right to repair?’ should not be asked, as the answer is clear: We have the right to repair, but we need to make it effective!” said Jan Koolen, head of the international bodyshop association (AIRC), at the meeting. “The AIRC represents 55,000 vehicle body repair shops, and up to the present we have repaired over 1.3 billion damaged vehicles. Therefore, you may take it that we have the expertise. However, we do not have the necessary technical information.” Koolen highlighted examples of needed information such as which kinds of steels are used, which are the prescribed joining techniques, and which sectional repairs of body parts are allowed.

This is in addition to electronics information.

“For the majority of vehicle brands, the information is available, but it can cost up to 4,000 euros a year,” says Koolen. This size of this expense is viewed as restrictive, and much of the issue revolves around security systems, known commonly as immobilizers. The automakers have been extremely reluctant to provide access information to these. “What good does it do to [return] a car back to the owner in a fully repaired and restored condition, if it cannot be started because the security system must be reset?”

“The issue is that the information was supposed to be made available under the ‘Bloc Exemption’ but has not been, at least to the satisfaction of the independent aftermarket,” said Bert Mons of the European Garage Equipment Association.

And it is not just the ability to conduct electronics repairs that is at stake. “On an Audi A6, you cannot replace the brake pads without a scan tool,” he added for emphasis.

As in North America, the Europeans have a considerable road ahead of them on the issue, but it is an issue that has at least coalesced under a single banner.

Unfortunately for the Equip Auto organizers, the show’s impact was surely dampened by a work stoppage by French rail workers. The protest was planned for the Thursday (day four of the show), but stretc
hed throughout the remainder of the week-long event. (On the Friday, despite promises by the press and hotel staff that all was back to normal, this writer arrived at the train station to find it locked.)

With the vast majority of attendees using rail to make the trip to the show, even from Paris, the attendance was profoundly affected.

That is a shame, as there were a great many important innovations and discussions planned that would have benefited many in the global aftermarket, had they actually been able to attend them.

The 2007 International Grands Prix Awards for Automotive Innovation were presented in four categories, plus special awards presented by the jury.

Engineering and Advanced Technology Category

Gold Trophy: Valeo, for its Smart Valve Actuation technology (camless engine)

Silver Trophy: Honeywell Turbo Technologies, for its parallel sequential dual stage turbocharger

Spare Parts and Aftermarket Category

Gold Trophy: Federal Mogul, for its Ferodo Thermo-Quiet

brake pad

Silver Trophy: Valeo, for its Guideo module

Garage Equipment Category

Gold Trophy: Akzo Nobel Car Refinishes, for its Sikkens Autoclear UV clearcoat

Silver Trophy: Actia Muller, for its Expert Shock Absorber Tester

Services Category

Gold Trophy: Exponentia, for its eXponentia technical support and training program

Silver Trophy: Bosch, for its BDC Premium program

Jury Special Awards (with the cooperation of the AJTE: Association of European Technical Journalists and the AFPA: French Motor Press Association)

Special Award: Siemens VDO Automotive, for its Electronic Wedge Brake

Special Award: Spheretech, for its EasyDiag diagnostics system

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