From Delco to Delphi to Aptiv

Tier 1 automotive suppliers typically fall well outside our No Boring Cars coverage, even under the Big Tent of our website. But enthusiasts can’t afford to ignore these companies as they influence, and often lead development of autonomy, connectivity, electrification, and cleaner, more efficient internal combustion.

This week, Delphi Automotive PLC announced it was splitting into two, with Delphi Technologies taking the advanced vehicle propulsion side of the business, specializing in combustion, software and controls and electrification, and the other spinoff, Aptiv, providing software, advanced computing platforms, and networking architecture for active safety and autonomous driving.

Wikipedia says General Motors formed the Automotive Components Group in 1994, renamed it Delphi Automotive a year later, and folded in Delco Electronics, which developed the first auto self-starter for the 1912 Cadillac, and Hughes Electronics, in 1997. GM spun off Delphi in 1999, and the parts supplier went through horribly slow bankruptcy reorganization from 2005 to 2009.

Lately, Delphi has been preparing business and auto journos for its latest corporate move with deep dives into the technologies that its Delphi Technologies and Aptiv will sell to original equipment manufacturers.

I recently took a quick test drive in a Volkswagen Passat equipped with Delphi Automotive’s Dynamic Skip Fire technology and 48-volt electrical system. It was just long enough for me to tell you that I didn’t notice anything special about the powertrain, which in this case is based on VW’s 1.8-liter TSI gasoline four. That’s the point, of course, that DSF and 48-volt don’t affect the standard drivetrain’s smoothness or power delivery.

DSF is a sort of next-generation cylinder shutoff, but is much more sophisticated than shutting off a bank of cylinders in a V-6 or V-8 at low-rpm highway cruising speeds. Instead, Dynamic Skip Fire “decides on every engine fire, which cylinders you fire,” says Mary Gutanski, who spoke as Delphi’s engineering and program management vice president, and now serves the new Delphi spinoff as its chief technology officer.

DSF adds about $ 350 to the cost of an engine, Gutanski says, and increases a four-banger’s fuel efficiency up to 8 percent, though in the VW Passat, Delphi claims a 5-percent gain. Delphi’s 48-volt mild-hybrid system, which seamlessly stops and starts at red lights, adds about $ 1,000 to the cost of the 1.8 TSI Passat drivetrain, while improving fuel efficiency by roughly 13 percent.

Add DSF and Delphi 48-volt to the Passat and the sum is greater than its parts, about a 19-percent efficiency gain in city fuel economy, while allowing “coasting” at zero internal combustion rpm on the highway. The two systems “extend each of the others’ operation longer,” Gutanski says, for “near” turbodiesel efficiency and equal CO2 emissions.

“It’s 25 percent cheaper than a turbodiesel, gets slightly less fuel efficiency, and needs no urea tank,” she says.

Aha! This is the natural replacement for the diesel engine, which I figure should be on its deathbed thanks to Volkswagen Group’s Dieselgate and the prospect for hydrogen fuel cell trucks, electrified cars, and this sort of engine, as well as Mazda’s Skyactive-X Compression four-banger.

Not so fast, Delphi Automotive—now Delphi Technologies—says. DSF, and especially, 48-volt systems don’t work well in bigger, heavier trucks. And not coincidentally, Delphi also sells a lot of diesel engine components.

If the sorts of technologies that Delphi Technologies sells still has an uncertain future going into 2030 and beyond, the technologies from spinoff Aptiv do not. It’s pretty easy to predict which of the two new companies Wall Street financial analysts and Silicon Valley venture capitalists will favor. Aptiv is working on automotive electrics for the autonomous/connected future that depart from hardware-based systems in favor of software-based systems, as Tesla has used pretty much since the beginning. The new Tesla-like systems will develop hardware and software together, instead of the current practice of developing software and hardware separately, then laying the software on top of the hardware.

Added advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment, and electrification are “driving content up exponentially,” says Aptiv chief technology officer Glen DeVos, and automated driving Levels III, IV, and V will require massive amounts of added capacity, with much greater data security.

Aptiv and its customers must “start to think about the car as a digital platform,” DeVos says. Like everyone else in the business, Aptiv is working with newer tech companies to develop such systems, and it will be interesting to see whether Silicon Valley or Detroit/Stuttgart/Tokyo/Seoul/Shanghai becomes the dominant partner here. Aptiv is partnered with Blackberry QNX to develop an operating system for autonomous vehicles, and it counts Renovo as a non-exclusive partner for software development.

While Aptiv is driving the auto industry down the sort of technology road that many enthusiasts would rather not enter, it’s encouraging that Delphi is working on engine technology that could provide internal combustion without emissions guilt.

Automobile Magazine

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