France is the leader in diesel-engine consumption and production, so it is no surprise to find suppliers of diesel components there. 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 there, although advanced 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.”

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.

PSA 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.

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

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.

Filters made with cordierite, the same material used in catalytic converters, could replace the more expensive silicon carbide filters. However, the cheaper material might require more expensive engine controls.

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' North American activities.

2005 passenger car diesel sales and size, by country

Country 2005 2005 Diesel CC kW/hp
units diesel % Avg. Avg.
Luxembourg 48,517 36,582 75.4 1,963 96/129
Belgium 480,088 348,544 72.6 1,721 77/103
France 2,067,789 1,428,842 69.1 1,695 76/102
Spain 1,528,877 1,036,579 67.8 1,726 80/107
Austria 307,915 199,837 64.9 1,776 80/107
Portugal 206,488 131,739 63.8 1,524 72/97
Italy 2,237,444 1,308,905 58.5 1,579 72/97
Germany 3,342,122 1,410,375 42.2 1,844 90/121
Norway 109,907 43,193 39.3 1,762 86/115
Great Britain 2,439,717 897,816 36.8 1,771 87/117
Switzerland 264,941 75,243 28.4 1,992 104/139
Netherlands 465,152 124,196 26.7 1,720 82/110
Denmark 148,819 35,865 24.1 1,654 78/105
Ireland 171,732 36,922 21.5 1,604 76/102
Finland 148,161 25,187 17 1,816 90/121
Sweden 274,301 26,607 9.7 1,990 103/138
Greece 269,733 4,316 1.6 1,541 n.a.
Average/Total 14,511,703 7,170,749 49.4 1,737 83/111
Source : CCFA, ACEA

French Industry Pursues Green Diesel

In 2003, when several French companies were putting together a plan to jointly market diesel fuel tanks and particle filters, they called the partnership “On the Road to Green Diesel.”

Now the project also embraces using urea in a selective catalytic reduction system to clean up oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions.

“Clean could mean just stopping the smoke,” says Thierry Seguelong, CEO of Aaqius & Aaqius, a French venture capital company. “Green means clean, no NOx and less CO2 (carbon dioxide).”

Inergy SA, the global leader in plastic fuel tanks, has the central role in the campaign. It is shouldered by Aaqius & Aaqius, which is invested in diesel aftermarket filter maker Jean Fayard's Exoclean system, and Rhodia Group, which makes the fuel additive Eolys, containing cerium, that is used to extend the life of ceramic diesel particle filters.

Green Diesel markets a liquid solution to the two exhaust problems of diesel engines: soot and NOx.

Ceramic filters capture soot that needs to be burned out periodically. Filters treated with platinum last the life of the car but require a 20-minute burnout every 500 km (410 miles).

NOx can be treated by capturing it in nitrate form within an absorbent mass, then reducing it with carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons produced in the exhaust stream. Or it can be treated by adding drops of urea into the catalytic converter where it becomes ammonia, reducing the NOx to nitrogen and water.

Inergy's role is developing the tanks and dispensing pumps for the cerium filter additive and urea — called AdBlue in Europe. Inergy is a joint venture between Plastic Omnium and Solvay.

At last year's Paris auto show, designer Espera Sbarro worked with Inergy to transform a BMW vehicle into a prototype using Inergy's fuel technologies, including a urea filler next to the capless diesel fuel filler and a built-in additive tank.