The new production capability is expected to be ready by April 2016, and will supply Russian and European OEMs with a range of driveline products, including propshafts. We spoke to Peter Moelgg, president engineering at GKN Automotive.
Another new factory announcement is business booming?
The long-term outlook for the automotive sector is positive, with light vehicle production forecast to grow globally by around a third to approximately 120 million vehicles over the next 20 years. GKN Driveline is achieving above market growth, with a key strand of our strategy being focused on developing our global network.
Why Poland? Is it a case of supplying close to the OEM demand?
We established a presence in Poland nearly 20 years ago and have enjoyed strong growth in the market since then, expanding our facility in the country on four separate occasions.
We now employ nearly 1,000 people in Poland and produce a range of driveline products, including nearly 10 million constant velocity joints a year and all-wheel drive technology. It has developed into one of our key plants in Europe.
Poland is an important market for GKN. It is clearly a growth market and several car manufacturers have announced expansion around Eastern Europe in recent months. Our expansion gives us the capacity to cater for the growth in the region’s automotive sector.
Are there different trends in what you’re producing in different regions?
Not particularly. Automakers are increasingly utilizing global platforms, so we need to have the capability and capacity to supply technology across the globe. Although a vehicle may be developed in a certain market, it is likely to be produced across all three regions.
Having said that, clearly all-wheel drive is more mature in Europe and the Americas, but we are seeing growing levels of demand for AWD in Asia-Pacific, particularly in China. Automotive production in China is forecast to grow by 42% by 2022, increasing from 22.6 million vehicles in 2014 to 32.1 million. Demand for AWD systems is expected to grow even more strongly up by 140% in the same period, so there are clearly opportunities.
GKN’s joint venture in China recently announced an US$850 million investment in the country over the next five years to meet growing demand for driveline systems, all-wheel drive and hybrid technologies. Construction of a large, new 22,000m2 technical centre in Shanghai for the joint venture is due to complete early next year. The facility, which will be part of the GKN global technology center network, will provide research and development capability for complete driveline systems, including vehicle integration, software development and vehicle testing capabilities.
What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on at the moment?
We’re innovating across all areas of our technology portfolio at present, from developing lighter sideshafts to working on the next generation of hybrid electric technology. This is an area that presents great opportunities, with our forecasts predicting that around four in every 10 cars will have some form of electrification in the coming years.
We produced the eAxle technology on the BMW i8 and Porsche 918 Spyder, which showcased how exciting hybrid electric vehicles can be, and we are now developing the electric drive technology of the future.
For example, we are developing electric drive technology that is able to transfer greater levels of power from the electric motor to the wheels, and are adding greater levels of functionality, such as the ability to vector torque from the electric axle. The technology roadmap for hybrid and electric vehicles is very exciting.
You’re investing in R&D in Poland too how important is that to GKN?
Research and development is extremely important to us and is why we are investing across all of our three regions. We are a technology-led business and it’s important that we keep ahead of the market by innovating and developing the driveline systems of the future. We maintain a strong dialogue with our customer base to ascertain their future needs, but we have developed a powertrain technology roadmap to ensure we keep innovating and delivering new technologies that move the industry forward.
What’s driving development over the next 10 years for GKN Driveline?
The drive to produce lighter, cleaner, more efficient cars that are still great to drive. Motorists want the combination of more efficient vehicles with great drive dynamics and performance, and that is the challenge facing the automotive industry, but one which it is rising to.
Demand for all-wheel drive, for example, is growing globally as drivers like the security and performance. AWD was traditionally associated with poor fuel consumption and low efficiency, but that is changing through technologies such as the Disconnect system we have developed for the likes of the Range Rover Evoque, Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X, which offers the performance but not the fuel penalty.
Electrification is also clearly a priority and we are developing technology that will help move the market forward, by helping to produce hybrid and electric vehicles that are great to drive but offer optimum efficiency. The balance of power delivery will ultimately shift from the internal combustion engine to the electric motor, and that presents some very interesting opportunities.
Pic: GKN Plc
August 19, 2015