Tenneco Inc is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of emission control and ride control products and systems for the automotive OE and aftermarket.  Its ride control products include shock absorbers, struts and its so-called CES (Computerised Electronic Suspension).  Matthew Beecham talked to Sandro Paparelli, Vice President, Sales and Programme Management for Ride Control Europe, Tenneco Europe NV, and Koen Reybrouck, Global Ride Control Technology Manager, Tenneco Europe NV.

just-auto: What are the main trends in conventional shock absorber technology that you are seeing and what’s driving them?

Koen Reybrouck: There are a number of trends. The biggest driver is the driver’s requirement for a quiet cabin in terms of comfort and noise. When we look back to the 1990s, there was a clear trend in the conventional shock absorber arena for better damping performance vehicles. Nowadays, drivers want both. These demands are driving the latest developments in conventional shock absorber technology. There are also things like improved material to reduce friction but also to reduce weight in the light of fuel economy/emission reduction.

just-auto: How does Tenneco’s CES system work and what makes it unique from some of the competing systems?

Koen Reybrouck: Although our technology seems similar to some competing technologies, it performs better because the system allows the damping characteristics to be changed in milliseconds, i.e. ensuring the occupant a smooth transition between comfortable ride and a safe handling. Tuneability is also important. And, of course, driver comfort has improved, too. When we compare our current systems with those we introduced in 2003, then that has also significantly improved. In looking ahead in terms of the pure damping evolution over the next five years, I think we shall see even more tuneability and better damping curves. The electronics behind it is also very important.

just-auto: Generally speaking, at an industry-wide level, how do you see the acceptance and growth rate of continuous damping technology by the OEMs?

Sandro Paparelli: We say that the markets are more than tripling over the next three years. We are also working on system cost reduction in order to make continuous damping technology available for C segment vehicles. That is our objective. If we can achieve that, we expect to see the market further grow considerably. We have already had one or two trials but it is still very confidential.

Koen Reybrouck: When we talk about the ‘tripling of the market’, that is basically with the current technology. The technologies which are under development focus not only on performance improvement but also on cost reductions which will allow further growth. The trends we see there for those future systems is further application of electronics into the shock absorber itself, allowing the system cost on the vehicle to be dramatically reduced.

just-auto: By how much do costs have to decrease?

Sandro Paparelli: Costs must be down 50% compared to today.

just-auto: What could the size of the market be today and in the future of these continuously-damping systems?

Sandro Paparelli: We could say that the market share of cars equipped with electronic suspension in 2006 represents 2% of the passenger car market in Europe and will be around 6% by 2010. At that time the Tenneco market share of such technology will be around 40%. So it is a growing market and indicates how the OEMs are reacting to our technology. If the significant cost can be reduced by 50%, we can easily imagine the penetration of 15% of cars equipped with electronic suspension in Europe.

just-auto: What does the future growth hinge on?

Koen Reybrouck:  At the moment, we are only working on future generations of CES. But there is more that can be done with the spring function itself. So as far as damping technologies are concerned, we are not only controlling damping but also controlling position and stiffness on vehicles. We have already developed a kinetic system – which is an anti-roll system – that has proven itself on the Citroën Xsara WRC over the past few years. That technology keeps the car body very flat but still allows the wheels to follow the road profile. The problem with vehicles with stiff suspension systems which are good for keeping the car body flat while turning is that when the road becomes uneven the contact tyre/road is not homogenously distributed resulting in loss of handling and comfort. So the kinetic system overcomes that and allows the wheels to move up and down on the road but still keep the car body flat. We can combine Kinetic and CES to introduce the best of both systems but of course at a higher system price. But what we want now is to see CES systems -- which are already successful on higher segment vehicles -- permeate down to the lower vehicle segments.

just-auto: What is Tenneco Europe’s involvement in corner modules?

Sandro Paparelli: We are involved in that arena but call them suspension modules, not corner modules. Although we built corner modules including the brake system a few years ago in Spain [supplying to SEAT] we are currently focused on the traditional suspension module, e.g. with strut, coil springs, top mount, compression bumper, etc. It is, let’s say, a reduced corner module. About six years ago there was a big push by the OEMs to outsource as much as they could in terms of sub-assemblies, not only suspension sub-assemblies but all kinds of sub-assemblies. Since then, some OEMs realised that they went a little bit too far and took the decision to reverse this trend. We currently supply suspension modules for Peugeot, Volkswagen and Suzuki. We not only assemble the module but carry out the complete system integration, i.e. we don’t just assemble parts received from suppliers but we design and perform the concept analysis, testing and validation of the system.

just-auto: Could you compare and contrast the European and North American automakers use of corner module technology?

Sandro Paparelli: The trend is going in the same direction. The car manufacturers want to have more control of the key functions of the car. The suspension of a car and the tuning of it is the real DNA for them. They prefer to work with us closely but to control the DNA of their product. We can always bring our added value to the car manufacturer’s original ideas. This is important and more so than developing the complete suspension. It is about really bringing our knowledge and competence of the suspension.

just-auto: How is the European aftermarket for shocks shaping-up? What should the brand ‘Monroe’ mean to consumers?

Sandro Paparelli: The Monroe brand stands for quality products, offering superior handling and safety. We have a very extensive coverage, too. Today, we can offer more than 98% of the market. This is very important for jobbers and distributors.

just-auto: How do you go about ‘educating the motorist’ about the dangers of worn-out shocks?

Sandro Paparelli: There are a lot of communication activities which we do. We try to communicate by giving the press an opportunity to drive vehicles with worn-out shock absorbers and compare them to vehicles fitted with new shocks. We also offer a lot of training activities. For example, we have a ‘testing van’ which travels to European cities which shows consumers how to diagnose a worn-out shock absorber. The van has the latest diagnostic equipment. Its purpose is to educate the market and advise on the dangers of driving on worn-out shocks.

just-auto: Is it easier to get that message across to the Germans than it is to, say, the British?

Sandro Paparelli: We very often have this discussion about British motorists. Although I feel that the people in the UK are real motorists – they like cars – they don’t replace their shocks quite as often as their German counterparts! Vehicle inspections also vary from one country to the next.

See also: Global market review of shock absorbers – forecasts to 2013


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