TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—For two years, auto makers and suppliers did their best to hang on as sales and production slowed to a crawl.
Now, with auto manufacturers gearing up for renewed production, suppliers like Cooper-Standard Automotive Inc. are figuring out what the new, post-recession auto industry will be like and what part they will play.
“With everything that has developed over the past couple of years, it's almost like a different market now,” according to Lyle Otrem¼¼ba, the company's vice president of commercial and product development.
Sport-utility vehicles that once dominated sales are being downplayed in favor of smaller passenger cars and crossover vehicles. Higher fuel-economy standards are being phased in, and car makers need to squeeze out an extra 9 miles per gallon by 2016. Electric vehicles that had only been concepts will go on sale by the end of the year.
To meet the demands of this new market, Novi, Mich.-based Cooper-Standard is launching new and revised products in hybrid and electric engines and lighter-weight seals.
The firm exhibited a “technology vehicle” outfitted with its new offerings at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars, held recently in Traverse City.
“Emissions and fuel economy (are) going to drive a lot going forward,” Otremba said in an interview at the event.
Cooper-Standard traditionally produces functional components—parts that are not necessarily highlighted at auto shows, but are a required part of every vehicle—such as weather seals, pumps and hoses, made with both rubber and thermoplastics. It sees new opportunities for those parts in the changing industry.
Hybrid and electric engines, for instance, need their own heating and cooling systems to be separate from the traditional thermal management in an engine compartment. Batteries that are too hot or too cold do not perform as well, which affects other parts. Otremba said Cooper-Standard can coordinate complete systems for that thermal management by tapping into its experience and adding new cooling pumps specifically designed for an electric future.
“These will drive a lot of things in terms of new technology,” he said.
It also is refining its existing product line to help with the weight savings car makers need to improve fuel economy.
Cooper-Standard's new Agrifiber seal for windows replaces the glass or talc that previously was used in an extruded polypropylene part, with a natural-fiber filler like hemp, rice hulls or wheat straw. The change cuts 10-15 percent of the weight from a standard seal, according to Mike Heinze, advanced product design manager in the North America division.
Cooper-Standard worked with a consortium of companies in France to develop the natural-fiber replacement. It will launch the first parts with PSA Peugeot Citroen later this year.
“We're looking at all kinds of alternatives for both weight and performance,” Otremba said.