Delphi Eager to Leave Bankruptcy Behind, Build Connections to Auto Industry’s Future

Auto parts manufacturer Delphi has a simple description of what it’s been up to during these past four years of bankruptcy reorganization. “We’ve been quiet, but we’ve been busy,” says Jeffrey Owens, president of Delphi’s electronics and safety division.

The recent Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress in Detroit was a kind of coming-out party for Delphi, which emerged from Chapter 11 in October 2009, and Delphi representatives were eager to show the industry and media what exactly they’ve been busy with.

The new mantra for the Troy, MI-based automotive parts manufacturer, which was spun out of General Motors in 1997, is “green, safe and connected.” But it looks as though “connected” has been its main focus—connected to where consumer products meet the automobile, and to where the nascent electric vehicle market meets the home and the electric grid.

First, the connection to the home. The apparent rise of the plug-in electric vehicle opens up “new product and market opportunities for those with the skill and foresight to pursue them,” Owens said during an SAE panel discussion that posed a kind of chicken-or-egg-style question: “Does the smart grid enable electric vehicles, or the other way around?” The answer, in Owens’ view, is that it does not matter—each can take advantage of the other. A vehicle plugged into any future smart grid can help with home energy management through smart chargers that can both provide cars with the juice they need  and give back to the home and to the grid.

JeffOwensBut, Owens said in an interview later with Xconomy, that there is no need to wait for the “smart grid” to arrive to take advantage of the commercial opportunities. Delphi can be an enabler for electric vehicles by providing the hardware needed to make connections today.

“We don’t do batteries … and we don’t do rotating machines,” Owens says. “But all of those variants require different types of electronics that have never been in the car before. So, that’s what we do and we’ve got 20 years of experience working on just that.”

Remember General Motors’ first (failed) experiment with electric vehicles, the EV1? Delphi, in partnership with Hughes Electronics, was instrumental in putting it together. But just because the EV1 failed doesn’t mean the knowledge gained from its development went out the window.

“We fortunately kept those folks engaged and working on future generations,” Owens says.

So, while other automotive suppliers are jumping into what will be a highly competitive race to … Next Page »

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