Q&A with Tenneco: Active suspension technologies

By Matthew Beecham | 5 June 2014

Maarten Maes

Maarten Maes

At a ride and drive event in Milan, Italy, Matthew Beecham talked with Maarten Maes, Director OE Sales & Programme Management, Tenneco about fitment rates of the company's active suspension technologies, its market share and what the Monroe brand stands for.

To begin - and just for clarification - how does Tenneco define a smart suspension?

For us, a smart suspension involves using inputs from the road and some sensors in order to adjust the damping. In that pure sense, it is a smart system which continually adjusts to the driving conditions.

We have developed a number of generations to date. We can offer a cost effective system for lower segments and a more complex one for higher segments.

What impact has the acquisition of DriV suspension products had on your business?

The acquired technology is a very compact digital valve. The main benefit is that it has enabled us to put some electronic control into the shock absorber itself. That means we are less dependent on the ECU. In that sense, it will complete our Monroe intelligent suspension portfolio. In terms of further development, [the DriV] will enable us to develop some 'plug and play' units. By acquiring DriV, it also enabled us to become independent of the car architecture which is exactly what we want in order to further develop our technologies.

Could you characterise the market stage of acceptance with active suspension in Europe?

The average take rate is quite low at around five percent. From our recent consumer research, we can see different things happening. There is a clear trend of downscaling to lower segments. For example, the VW Golf has the fully semi-active suspension. Meanwhile, OEMs are saying that such technologies are becoming increasingly important as consumers compare and contrast certain models in a segment. So the platforms featuring such suspension technologies are extending continually.

Was your consumer research brought to bear partly out of frustration for that relatively low take rate of active suspension technologies?

Yes. Even our own employees have found that by enquiring about such technologies at their local car dealerships, most sales staff have little understanding of the benefits let alone attempt to really push the technology where offered as an option. This is the reality. We are seeing the OEMs increasingly asking for our help in promoting active suspension technologies, provide materials to help with training, make some videos and so on. They want to work with us more on pushing this technology. In addition to OEMs, we are increasingly working with dealerships and country importers.

What is your strategy to grow active suspension in emerging markets?

We are seeing some clear interest from emerging markets. It is becoming more and more a reality that those emerging markets no longer wish to just copy what Europe already offers but would like certain suspension technologies developed for their own market. Having said that, Europe remains a big driver as cars built here equipped with our technologies are exported to emerging markets. We are going to take some initiatives to promote it in other regions working alongside OEMs.

What is Tenneco's market share of the active suspension market in Europe?

The market itself is still relatively young. Our estimations are that we have around 25 percent of the electronic suspension market in Europe.

There is a lot of talk about autonomous driving. In what ways can Tenneco support this?

From our perspective, we see two main aspects of autonomous driving. The first is clearly that the driver will be able to divert his or her attention to other things. Therefore we believe that there will have to be an extra comfort level built into the car. In this respect, we are working on our fully active system which will bring the next level of comfort to support autonomous driving. Secondly, if the car is driving itself then the 'driver' becomes less aware of potential hazards on the road resulting in sudden manoeuvres. So, from a suspension point of view, an autonomous vehicle needs a system that can proactively anticipate movements of the car. Once again, our active suspension can help there.

What should the Monroe brand mean to customers?

From my OE point of view, Tenneco wants to become the technology leader. So the Monroe brand must stand for advanced technology. Of course, our link with quality is an important aspect. But we really want Monroe to be recognised as a high tech brand. This is particularly important as we face new entrants from Asia.

Your plants produce both OE and aftermarket products. What advantage does this give you?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE shock absorber research service