…with the founder of FEV, Professor Franz Pischinger, and the chairman of the board and managing partner of FEV Group, Professor Stefan Pischinger.
FEV – A Real Success Story. What was your vision when you founded the company?
Prof. Franz Pischinger: My vision was to carry engine development research results from theory to practice. I knew that combustion engines had a lot of potential and the demand from the automotive industry for more efficient engines with lower pollutant emissions was very high, even forty years ago. We had the knowledge to drive developments and create solutions for mobility.
FEV was founded by four committed colleagues, including yourself. What were the biggest challenges in the beginning?
Prof. Franz Pischinger: The beginning of any start-up, as our project at the time would probably be called now, presents challenges that are similar, by and large. We had made a name for ourselves with the research results at the RWTH, but of course we had to first convince customers that our developments offered real added value in practice. Fortunately, we managed to do this very quickly.
With increasing development orders and a growing number of employees, we were also confronted with very mundane challenges: our office space on Augustinergasse gradually became too small and we urgently needed to increase our number of test benches in order to be capable of testing the research results.
Your son, Professor Stefan Pischinger, now occupies your former position as Chairman of the Board of FEV – and has done so for almost 15 years. Do you drop by the Neuenhofstraße every now and then?
Prof. Franz Pischinger: Absolutely, but not to monitor the employees – merely to observe. The development of the company shows that excellent work is being done.
I am extremely interested in seeing which projects are currently being worked on and what this vibrant company is planning next.
On the subject of planning and since its creation, FEV has grown continuously. This can also be seen in the building expansion of the headquarters on Neuenhofstraße since you moved there in 1990. Is an end to the expansion planned?
Prof. Stefan Pischinger: Certainly not. Our customers appreciate the local proximity and the capacities that we can offer regionally. As an internationally active company, we now have more than forty locations worldwide. We are expanding continuously – on the one hand through opening new locations, and on the other hand through the expansion of existing test centers – for example, Auburn Hills (USA) or in our durability test center in Brehna (Germany), where we are currently expanding our offering with seven test benches designed strictly for e-drives. This naturally also increases our number of specialists, who are ultimately the drivers of our success.
What are the key drivers of this growth and how does FEV deal with them?
Prof. Stefan Pischinger: The demand for development services from OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers has been increasing steadily, along with the complexity of the development tasks, and is therefore a key reason for the growth we have experienced during the past few decades. To meet this demand, FEV strategically realigned itself by establishing a Group GmbH in 2014. To better address the volume of international customer inquiries, our central business units have been given more responsibility for their operations. At the same time, these structures allow FEV to manage its international resources more efficiently, while the business units can focus more than ever on their respective operational areas of responsibility. Customer feedback shows that this was the right step.
What are the most important trends and topics that will shape the automotive industry of tomorrow?
Prof. Stefan Pischinger: The core topics have been the same for years; the two most important that should be mentioned here are fuel consumption and emissions, both in the context of the powertrain and the overall vehicle. Naturally, e-mobility is also an essential topic. In the meantime, however, there is increasing consensus that the future will not exclusively belong to electric vehicles. Although they will certainly play an important role, they will share the market with hybrid vehicles. The cost efficiency of hybridization and 48-volt technology is a significant topic, as is the continuous improvement of diesel and gasoline engines.
One of the key tasks of the powertrain will be the reduction of fuel consumption and pollutant emissions. There are also classic topics, such as aerodynamics, exhaust heat recovery, and onboard network optimization that must be considered. The Car2Infrastructure / Car2Car communication and connection, as well as autonomous driving, must also be taken into account as influential factors for efficient mobility concepts.
How can diesel and gasoline engines combustion engines still be optimized?
Prof. Stefan Pischinger: In the development of the passenger car Diesel engine, once the nitrogen oxide issue is resolved, we will still see a much stronger focus on increased fuel efficiency in the future, both on the conventional side with improved mechanics and optimized thermodynamics, as well as in connection with electrical support systems. The modular design of the future engine generation will enable a targeted configuration of the powertrain for the respective application. Thus, modern Diesel engines will remain an essential element in the drive system portfolio for heavy vehicle categories or applications with high driving power over the next few decades.
Friction reduction is an important powertrain subject and will remain a big trend. Developments in roller bearings will contribute to reducing friction significantly, as we are already seeing this in the case of turbo chargers. In the future, camshafts and balance shafts will also be optimized to this end, and this is also possible for crankshafts. Beyond that, innovations will continue to reduce CO2 emissions. The variable compression ratio will play a role in some applications. For this, FEV has developed a simple solution with a two-level connecting rod.
The use of e-fuels in the powertrains can also have a significant impact and lead to the further reduction of CO2 emissions for combustion engines.
FEV is associated with many innovations. Have you become especially proud of a specific development in recent decades and, if so, why that one?
Prof. Franz Pischinger: Spontaneously, I would say the Diesel particle filter that we developed together with Peugeot. Ultimately, it contributed significantly to establishing the excellent reputation that compression ignition systems in the passenger car segment now enjoy.
40 years of FEV – we also have to look to the future. What do you expect from the coming years?
Prof. Stefan Pischinger: As much as the automotive industry and the understanding of mobility in the context of the digital revolution are changing, that is how much our mobility will change. Electrified drives, autonomous driving and connected vehicles are a few forward-looking topics in this regard.
With its innovations over the past 40 years, FEV has decisively shaped mobility. Our goal is to continue supporting our customers as a reliable partner in the coming decades with the same care and dedication, despite the increasingly complex overall mobility concepts with development cycles that are becoming increasingly shorter at the same time.
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The success story of FEV began four decades ago, as an extension of the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) in Aachen, Germany. Since 1970, Professor Franz Pischinger had been the owner of the Institute for Applied Thermodynamics at the RWTH where he researched methods for cleaner, more economical, and quieter Diesel and gasoline engines. Soon, the Institute developed into a think tank for more efficient combustion engines, and Pischinger came up with the vision of carrying the ideas from research and development into business.
However, many challenges had to be won before the “Forschungsgesellschaft für Energietechnik und Verbrennungsmotoren” (FEV) company was founded. After all, the prevailing opinion at the time was that universities and businesses should be strictly separate from each other. Today, in contrast, that is long gone and application-oriented research and market supply has established itself as the Aachen model for success. Even at that time, FEV was described as a forerunner and a pioneer – long before the company’s first groundbreaking innovations.
The advantages of the close collaboration between FEV and RWTH were obvious. FEV was able enrich the teaching and engineer training at the university through a very strong practical exchange, and RWTH developed into a talent factory for drive development and expanded its first-class reputation. FEV, in turn, could attract graduates through its research orientation. Aachen also hugely benefited as an economic center from the synergy of education and business.
The initial doubts of a few skeptics who claimed the academic work of Professor Pischinger would suffer from his business commitments were laid to rest. Until his departure from the Institute in 1997, Professor Franz Pischinger shared his knowledge with nearly 9,000 students and supervised the research work of more than 200 engineers as they obtained their doctorates. During his 26 years at the RWTH as Dean and Proctor, and in addition to his insightful lecturers, he connected the RWTH with leading global technological institutions for the purpose of efficient, expertise-bundling research.
As the recipient of significant awards, such as the Aachener Ingenieurpreis, and his induction into German Research Hall of Fame, Professor Franz Pischinger is living proof that education and business inspire and drive each other. This model was also followed by his son, Professor Stefan Pischinger, who took over the Institute for Thermodynamics at the RWTH from his father in 1997 and serving as Chairman of the FEV Board since 2003, is in charge of leading FEV toward cleaner and sustainable mobility.
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