PARIS – France is the leader in diesel-engine consumption and production, so it is no surprise to find suppliers of diesel components here. If the U.S. market ever gravitates toward diesel engines, France surely will benefit.

“We have an ambition to be known worldwide,” says Marc Chalet, manager of Mov’eo, a collection of automotive companies and universities located in Normandy and the Paris area. “Our industries have excellent competence in diesel technology.”

Mov’eo and a handful of French diesel suppliers are exhibiting at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit (beginning April 16) under the banner “Diesel in France.” The goal is to pursue global opportunities in diesel powertrains and better understand the outlook for oilburners in America.

The suppliers most critical to European diesels are Germany’s Robert Bosch GmbH and Siemens VDO Automotive, Denso Corp. of Japan and U.S.-based Delphi Corp.

All four make the common-rail direct-injection systems essential to modern diesels. Delphi’s main diesel operation is in France, and the German suppliers have large operations here, although their advanced research and development is done in German technical centers.

Henri DuPont is in charge of Siemens VDO’s diesel team of 130 in France.

“Here we are doing everything to apply the platform and all the components developed in Germany to the French applications,” DuPont says. “One of our specialties here is that we have the culture of the low-cost approach.”

Among the Siemens VDO developments is a common platform for gasoline and diesel engine management.

“We can develop a single module to pilot a sensor, for example, that can be used on gasoline or diesel, such as an EGR (exhaust-gas recirculation) component,” DuPont says. “We are developing glow-plug pressure sensors that measure pressure within the cylinder, and we are developing the same kind of tool for gasoline engines. In such a case, the module to measure the pressure is the same, but the interpretation in the engine management strategy is different for gasoline or diesel.”

Electricfil Automotive is the European leader in camshaft speed sensors and non-contact position sensors for diesel-engine control systems, with about half the market.

While some diesel injection systems now employ piezohydraulic actuators, Electricfil has kept hold of more than a million engines a year by improving the performance of its less expensive electromagnetic actuators.

Valeo SA of France became a system supplier to diesel engines in March 2005 when it acquired the engine management business of Johnson Controls Inc., a unit that formerly had been part of France-based Sagem SA.

Earlier, Valeo had been a leader in providing heat exchangers for EGR coolers, but now it provides the entire EGR system, sharing the market with Germany’s Kolbenschmidt Pierburg AG.

In addition, Valeo has partnered on several diesel-hybrid projects with the British engineering group Ricardo plc, as well as with Ford Motor Co. and its Volvo Cars unit.

Valeo now is working with PSA Peugeot-Citroen on a France-funded program to produce an affordable diesel hybrid for 2010, developing the starter-generator, transmission parts, the thermal management system and other components.

A stop and start system, which shuts off the engine during stops, typically costs €300 to €500 ($398 to $664), plus the cost of the battery or ultra-capacitor used to store electricity. Valeo already has shown a stop-start system on a prototype Volvo S40 diesel.

PSA Peugeot-Citroen invited Ibiden, a Japanese manufacturer of high-tech ceramics, to France to produce the ceramic substrate that filters 99.9% of the soot produced in diesel combustion.

Ibiden DPF France SAS – a joint venture with raw-material supplier Saint-Gobain Group – ships the ceramic element to exhaust suppliers such as Faurecia SA for canning.

Now a native French ceramic company, Céramiques Techniques et Industrielles (CTI), is preparing to enter the automotive diesel particulate filter market.

“In 2009 (when Euro V takes effect), every diesel will need a filter,” says CTI’s founder, Jean-Pierre Joulin. “We have a new technology of production, a new process that is less expensive. Our filters now are retrofitted on buses, trucks, garbage trucks in Europe, and they are undergoing validation at PSA, Ford and Fiat.”

In 1999 Faurecia, for its parent company PSA, launched the diesel particulate filter era for passenger cars.

Those for PSA and Ford use an additive in the fuel to help with periodic filter clean-outs, while the rest of the industry uses filters coated with precious metals so purging requires no additive. Exhaust systems now are a €2.7 billion ($3.6 billion) annual business for Faurecia.

Filters made with cordierite, the same material used in catalytic converters, could replace the more expensive silicon carbide filters, says Faurecia’s Dominique Maret, marketing manager-exhaust systems. However, the cheaper material might require more expensive engine controls.

Excluding precious metals, an average passenger-car exhaust system sells to OEMs for about €140 ($186); precious metal monoliths add an average €85 ($113) for a gasoline system and €150 ($200) for a diesel system.

For the foreseeable future, Maret says, the European market will remain evenly split between diesel and gasoline engines for new vehicles, “depending on the speed at which GDI (direct-injection gasoline) improves the efficiency of gasoline and the cost of emission controls for diesel NOx (oxides of nitrogen) after 2011-2012,” during the run-up to Euro VI.

Hutchinson Free Transfer System supplies automotive high- and low-pressure tubing in rubber and plastic. For the diesel, Hutchinson components are used in cooling circuits, particularly for heat transfer in the intercoolers for the turbocharger.

“The diesel has been an issue in America for about a year,” says Bruno Petit, who manages Hutchinson FTS activities in North America from an office in Michigan. “The industry is talking a lot about it. It could take off, but it depends on politics.”

“I think it will grow, and you have to be there in the initial phase. The diesel has a future in the United States.”