At the 2017 Frankfurt IAA we spoke to Ben Patel, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Tenneco.

just-auto: Where do you see the diesel market going?

Ben Patel: Let’s start in North America – there I would not characterise the market as having gone away because of any scandals. I think that it’s very segment specific. The full-size pickup truck market is very robust for diesel, in fact that segment has grown. That will continue to stay diesel from everything we see, and is continuing to grow. On the light vehicle side, even before “dieselgate”, I would say that the North American light vehicle diesel market was anaemic. The price of fuel is so low no one was going to pay a premium for the diesel powertrain that would take four or five years to pay back, based on a 20-30% fuel saving. That’s just not the way consumers purchase their vehicle in North America, because people don’t keep their vehicles four or five years.

Do you think North American consumers are more prepared for the payback on a hybrid then?

It’s fundamentally the same calculation. But what’s happened in the hybrid powertrain is you don’t pay that premium; many hybrid powertrains are being offered at a cost parity to a pure gasoline. Otherwise, the principal is the same. That’s my view of the North American market. I think diesel will continue to be primarily for work trucks and the Class 3 market. For light vehicle, I think it’s going to all but disappear.

And for Europe?

Now in Europe, it’s a very different story. I think that here we continue to see relatively robust demand for diesel. Our view as a supplier of exhaust systems heavily biased towards cold-end solutions, is to be somewhat agnostic as to the future diesel/gasoline powertrain mix in Europe. For the platforms where we do have hot end business, again regulation is what drives content. With now Euro 6, and what’s coming beyond Euro 6…

So here we’re looking a dual-dosing of urea strategies and also looking at hydrocarorbon (HC) injections in the system, in order to help the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) stay warm and within its operating field. Also for Euro 6D we’re close-coupling our systems a lot from what was once a two-metre long exhaust system. That’s certainly a very strong trend. Beyond that, there might be additional needs in terms to retain the heat for the SCR. It could be dual dosing. It could be HC vaporizers being added to the system in order to create heat outside of the engine combustion process, so not with post-injection, like during DPF forced regeneration, but with a process which is just after the combustion chamber in the exhaust system.

This sounds like more on-cost for the OEM, where can you take cost out of the rest of the system that you’re already providing?

What I’ve just described is improved thermal management. Whether it’s because of more stringent requirements from a test cycle and the cold start, or it’s from a real driving emission requirement in urban driving cycles, thermal management becomes a core of how you not only optimise the system design, but there’s the potential of actually maybe thrifting out platinum group metals (PGMs) from the system, because you’re maintaining heat that’s in the system, and it can drive higher efficiencies with lower loadings. That’s one way that if you can come up with the right design, and you can keep everything as close to the engine as possible, keep everything as hot as possible, and get it hot quicker, there’s the potential to take overall system cost out, but from something which is non-value-add at Tenneco, because we don’t supply the substrate or the PGM.

From a fuel perspective you’ve said Tenneco’s agnostic. How do you see the overall market in Europe developing?

I think the journey to electrification is going to go through series and parallel hybrids. I think without a doubt, 48-volt systems are coming in the market. The benefits that they bring and the power requirements for most of the ADAS technologies that are going to be on the future vehicles can be met by 48-volt architecture at a much lower cost than going to a complete BEV. In all those systems, you are going to continue to have an internal combustion engine, even if it’s just a range extender. So there’s a continued requirement for exhaust systems and after treatment. 

As a solution provider, we work with our customers to try to figure out if there’s reduced packaging space because the battery’s consuming real estate that historically we had access to. It makes the challenge higher, but also brings the value of Tenneco to the customer in a more acute way. Because now we have to design in a much more restricted package envelope and deliver the same acoustic back pressure performance requirements that we would’ve historically had to produce in a much larger space.

What about for Europe beyond 2021? If you’re looking at 95g CO2 in 2021, what’s coming in 2030? Presumably there has to be a much higher level of BEV – does that change the game for Tenneco?

Well, we’ve modelled out what can happen, all the way out to 15% complete penetration of BEV. From a growth standpoint, what we’re confident in, is that there are still going continue to be a very large percentage of vehicles that have internal combustion engines on them, from an absolute unit standpoint, because the market is growing on its own. We also see an increase in demand in content per vehicle, because the regulations continue to drive for more stringent criteria. We have our models, just like everybody else. The low-end is 4% by 2030, I think that’s very low. On the high-end, I think we’ve modelled all the way up to almost six, seven times that. If it lands in the middle at 15% I think we’re comfortable with that.

In terms of future content opportunities, what do you see as the main ones at the moment?

Well, I think that there’s a lot of focus on very high efficiency SCR, so moving to 97-98% conversion, that’s where the industry is moving towards.

Where are we at the moment?

Closer to 95%. That higher NOx conversion allows for an engine calibration, which is much more fuel efficient, but produces a lot more NOx. What I think Tenneco has to offer is delivering dosing systems in combination with advancements in technologies, because at the end of the day it’s that module, that combination of spray quality – which is a function of droplet size, and point angle – in combination with the most compact, efficient mixing device that will deliver the best system. It’s that combination that’s going to provide the highest uniformity of the smallest droplets, that’s going to lead to the highest conversion. That’s one strategy for how we’re going to achieve very high efficiency NOx.

A different strategy would be the Mazda strategy, so lower temperature combustion, and having less after-treatment. Do you see opportunities for Tenneco with lower temperature combustion?

Lower temperature combustion, yes we look at that. We have research projects where we’re looking at water injection, for instance, as an in-cylinder approach to reducing emissions.

Don’t BMW already have water injection?

They do – they’re the only one in the market. The question there is, “Where does the water come from? What is the purity and PH level of that water?” We’re looking at approaches to such as: water collection from the exhaust; condensing and isolating that; makng sure the water is the correct PH so you don’t drive in-cylinder corrosion issues. These are all topics, which are being investigated in the industry, and we’re like most advanced technology companies. We have a pretty robust research group. We look at a lot of these advanced technologies. Even if they’re not ready for market today, they add value to our customers, because we show them what’s possible.