The departure of the major Tier 1 suppliers from the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit was a blessing of sorts this year for lower-tier suppliers that often toil in obscurity but nonetheless play a vital role in testing future vehicles.

This year, Horiba Ltd., FEV Engine Technology Inc., AVL List GmbH, IAV GmbH and Schenck Pegasus Corp. didn't stand in the shadows of Delphi Corp., Visteon Corp. and Robert Bosch Corp. Instead, these lesser-known engineering-intensive companies captured a fair amount of attention with big, impressive booths and by demonstrating their considerable power-train prowess.

And with stricter emissions regulations on the horizon — along with the political debate over corporate average fuel economy — the timing was ideal for these companies to make a splash at SAE last month.

Two of the companies, Horiba and Schenck Pegasus, formed a joint venture a year ago with Ricardo plc. This year at SAE, the venture, SRH Systems, already is bearing fruit — one year ahead of schedule. SRH Systems unveils STARS, a new automation software platform that will meet the emissions requirements of the future.

The development team for STARS had members from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Japan and the U.K. STARS is an open platform, designed to support each region of the world with powerful data analysis. Horiba is based in Kyoto, Japan. Schenck Pegasus is based in Darmstadt, Germany. Ricardo is based in the U.K. but has a significant presence in the U.S. as well.

The regional flexibility is crucial, as Europe, North America and Asia/Pacific have completely different approaches and philosophies with regard to testing, says Frank Haun, chairman of SRH. “It's designed to support any enterprise anywhere across multiple time zones,” says Haun, who also is president and CEO of parent company Carl Schenck AG. “It can work in all languages.”

The joint venture already has a customer. By mid-March, Ford Motor Co. was using STARS, and two other unannounced customers also are on board, Haun says. Ford will use STARS in developing a diesel engine with reduced emissions and improved torque.

Each of the three partner companies will build and market testing equipment based on the STARS platform. Schenck is the majority partner in the joint venture, owning 57%. Ricardo owns 24%; Horiba 19%.

Their primary competitor in powertrain testing, AVL, made news of its own at SAE this year.

The German-based engineering company has developed a Bag Mini-Diluter (BMD) testing machine that can determine if a car is worthy of super ultra-low emission vehicle (SULEV) certification.

AVL is bolstered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's strong encouragement that the industry use BMD-type apparatus for SULEV testing and beyond. The company has produced one BMD-150 machine, which has been in use since October in California by Quantum Technologies, says William Silvis, AVL director of emissions technology.

The machine costs $110,000, which is comparable in price to traditional constant volume sampler (CVS) emissions-testing machines currently in use, and about one-fourth the size. Silvis says some CVS machines can cost up to $180,000 because they often are custom-built.

The BMD does not have to be custom-built and is much more versatile because it can be used to test all emissions. “It's one-size-fits-all for diesel or gas,” Silvis says.

A CVS is larger because it has up to 12 bags that hold emissions to be tested. The BMD needs only four bags, because a much smaller air sample is required. The EPA has recognized that BMDs measure exhaust emissions more accurately than a CVS. Also, the tests are more repeatable.

AVL now is launching production of BMD machines, but volumes will be extremely low, likely between 20 and 40 units in the first year, Silvis says.

Horiba has a BMD machine as well. But Silvis says AVL is licensed to produce its BMD to meet the requirements outlined by the American Industry Government Emissions Research consortium.

Another company encouraged by the EPA's support of BMDs is FTI Flow Technology Inc. of Phoenix. The company, which also exhibited at SAE, says it expects explosive growth for its “E-Flow” direct vehicle exhaust sampling system, which works in tandem with BMDs.

Although both Horiba and AVL have BMDs ready for production, the industry remains several years away from high-volume market penetration of clean-burning SULEV cars.

Meanwhile, AVL has acquired a majority interest in Pierburg Instruments of Neuss, Germany, another producer of emissions and fuel measurement systems for internal combustion engines.

Pierburg's Auburn Hills, MI, operations will be wholly owned by AVL. Peter Kaub, the former president of Pierburg Instruments in Auburn Hills, departs to become president and CEO of Schenck Pegasus Corp. in North America.