VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP, MI – They’re scavenging and trapping at Visteon.
Granted, the Tier 1 supplier’s sprawling campus 30 miles (48 km) west of Detroit borders a picturesque lake ringed by marsh grass and stands of hardwood trees. But these Visteon engineers and designers aren’t pursuing wildlife; some are on the hunt to collect, repackage and recirculate air for multiple engine and interior applications.
The real-time testing and design work for heat-transfer and other climate-control subsystems is done elsewhere at the Visteon complex. But the nuts, bolts and semiconductor chips bridging the blueprint and the car are on display at the newly opened Visteon Innovation Center, a showroom both for products now in use, nearing production or conceptualized for cars of the future.
Scavenging is climate-systems engineer Heidi Crandall’s term for essentially making heat energy multitask. To demonstrate the process for customers, employees and visitors to the Innovation Center, Crandall points to hardware mounted on a kiosk in the middle of the 7,600-sq.-ft. (706-sq.-m) facility.
This particular apparatus, designed for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, is a heat-pump system, which uses an electric compressor to cool the cabin by running refrigerant in one direction.
Waste heat “scavenged” from the compressor is pumped into the cabin, warming it while drawing less power from the lithium-ion battery and extending the EV’s or hybrid’s range 30% or more, depending on the outside temperature, Crandall says. The heat pump created “instant heat” in an EV being tested in 0° F (-18° C) temperatures at a test facility in International Falls, MN, she says.
The technology isn’t quite brand-new, but the showcase for Visteon and Halla Visteon Climate Systems, its 70%-owned subsidiary, is.
The Innovation Center puts the fruits of the supplier’s Halla Visteon Climate Control and Visteon Electronics R&D labor at center stage as the supplier sheds its interiors business, Richard Vaughan, manager-corporate innovation and design, tells WardsAuto ahead of the facility’s grand opening earlier this month.
“We didn’t have the scale necessary. Now it’s simplified,” he says.
The center reflects Visteon’s shift of focus from interior-systems materials to vehicle components that more directly “impact the consumer experience” and interests such as connectivity, spokesman Jim Fisher adds.
One might be hard-pressed to come up with anything with as much impact on consumer experience as smell. But that’s what Visteon features in four interchangeable “fragrance modules” as part of a climate-control system that also has an ionizer and charcoal filters to cleanse the cabin air of dust.
The system is available in a 2014 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors candidate, Mercedes’ high-end S550 sedan, which dubs its scents Nightlife Mood, Sports Mood, Downtown Mood and Freeside Mood. In development is an infrared sensor that adjusts front-cabin air temperature by measuring the occupant’s body heat.
More heat scavenging is on display a few feet away at a table where engineer Van Papoulis has laid out a grid of hollow metal rods roughly 3-by-4 ft. (0.9-1.2 m). A component of BMW’s i3 electric vehicle, the rods absorb heat energy from the battery while being cooled by the air conditioner refreigerant. In cold weather, resistors in the rods heat the battery.
In each case, better temperature control extends both the efficiency and life of the battery, Papoulis says.
Glimpse of Future
While some of the technology on display at the Innovation Center has made its way into vehicles such as the S550, i3, BMW i5 and the fuel-cell electric vehicle Hyundai launched in Europe in 2013 and is rolling out on the West Coast, there are glimpses of the future as well.
On display at the center of the showroom is the e-Bee concept electric vehicle unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and expected to be production-ready by the middle of the next decade, design manager Chris Gaddis says.
Designed with an eye toward ride-sharing, the Visteon concept’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system is in a self-contained module that can be placed under the seats, in the trunk or below the instrument panel, creating generous legroom in a car no bigger than a Chevrolet Spark. Each occupant can set heating and air conditioning zones to their own preferences using different configurations of vents and ductwork, Gaddis says.
Occupants also can create customized lighting and set up in-cabin user interfaces and graphics using a smartphone. Indeed, the vehicle controls and entertainment functions occupy identically sized IPs on either side of the steering wheel.
The systems, subsystems and components on display at the Innovation Center are the products of a broad canvas handed to designers and engineers by their employer.
Since exiting 16 months of bankruptcy in the fall of 2010, Visteon steadily has shed its interiors business in favor of focusing on climate controls and electronics. Sales and share value also have been trending upward.
Visteon raised more than $1 billion from its fourth-quarter 2013 sale of its 50% stake in China's Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Trim Systems to Huayu Automotive Systems. The supplier also is selling its 50% stake in its Duckyang Industry Korean auto-interiors JV, a deal expected to raise $30 million.
Meanwhile, the components maker spun off from Ford in 2000 is completing its $265 million acquisition of Johnson Controls’ automotive electronics business comprising instrument-cluster, infotainment, display and body-electronics products.
The supplier also has raised its equity stake in its Visteon Avtopribor Electronics JV from 49% to 68.8%, becoming majority shareholder in one of Russia's leading cockpit electronics suppliers with customers including Ford, Renault-Nissan and local automakers GAZ and VAZ.
Additionally, Visteon is expanding facilities stretching from Alabama to Thailand. It isn’t entirely going it alone, however. It has formed strategic partnerships to develop vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology offering improved driver awareness and considered a precursor to autonomous driving.
As Visteon pursues targeted growth, ideas are being collected and developed, and the Innovation Center tells the story of how they’re nurtured in R&D, there’s no shame in scavenging.