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Pushing Boundaries

BorgWarner’s James Verrier discusses the key to staying on top of innovation within the auto industry

Pages 16-17

Since 2005, 18 BorgWarner innovations have been named finalists for the prestigious Automotive News PACE Awards. What’s the key to staying at the forefront of technology and innovation?

Since 1928, BorgWarner has built a solid reputation for innovation. But, like an athlete, we all know that the race is never really won. We must constantly drive toward the next goal. We don’t gamble on one big thing. It is multiple innovations in many aspects of our business that all add up and result in an entrepreneurial culture that fosters innovation.

As a company with a laser focus on product leadership, achieving third-party recognition allows us to compete and compare our innovations with others in the industry; however, the awards BorgWarner’s James Verrier discusses the key to staying on top of innovation within the auto industry that really mean the most to us are those that recognize our collaboration with automakers. In the end, it’s all about putting new technologies on the road quickly. We understand the environment, anticipate what automakers need five or 10 years from now and develop new innovations to help get them there. Working directly with automakers to solve their specific challenges is where BorgWarner really shines.

EY recognized you as Automotive Entrepreneur of the Year. What’s unique about BorgWarner’s entrepreneurial culture?

After over 25 years with BorgWarner, I can honestly say people here are truly passionate about what they do. They like to take initiative and push the boundaries of what’s technically possible. There’s space for developing ideas and making unconventional solutions a reality. We work hard to nurture our culture, to give people responsibility and results-oriented work that allows them to grow throughout their career. It’s a very exciting, fast-paced environment where people thrive on new challenges.

How do you go about anticipating customers’ needs in such a rapidly evolving industry?

To understand what automakers need, you must understand what motivates them. Automakers are under increasing pressure from governments to deliver more fuel economy and fewer emissions. At the same time, drivers are demanding better fuel economy plus higher performance. We do business with all automakers around the world, which provides us with invaluable insight into future trends and challenges. Building strong relationships with our customers, understanding the strategies they are employing and recognizing trends allows BorgWarner to deliver the right solution at the right time.

Borg Warner-editOur (trademarked) Eco-Launch solenoid is a good example of a technology we developed based on a trend we identified. The solenoid valve enables automakers to implement stop/ start strategies for vehicles with automatic transmissions, and deliver quick, quiet and smooth launches without hesitations.

We didn’t have a customer, but we did recognize an opportunity. We approached General Motors Co. and worked with them to refine the design quickly. The innovation earned a PACE Collaboration Award, but more importantly, we believe it will accelerate consumer acceptance of fuel-efficient stop/ start systems.

Perceptions of the automotive industry often lag behind reality – even in Michigan, the industry’s home. Companies like BorgWarner are as much tech companies as automotive companies. How do we change those perceptions?

Changing perceptions begins with building awareness. The automotive industry offers the opportunity to work in a global industry, enjoy a great working atmosphere and make a positive impact on the environment. We need to explain the global market, potential growth and powertrain technologies to the world – and do it often. With new technologies, new fuel strategies and new powertrains, I believe this is one of the most exciting times in the history of the automotive industry. Looking back in my own lifetime, it’s amazing to see the improvements made in reducing emissions and improving performance. Looking forward, what will be the dominant powertrain of the future? What improvements will we achieve in handling and fuel economy? The future is wide open.

How has BorgWarner’s relationship changed in the global economy, and how does that impact innovation and invention?

The world is certainly becoming smaller. We communicate more rapidly and travel more often. People in countries around the world regularly exchange ideas and work together on crossfunctional teams every day. What we invent for one region can be adapted for another, and improvements can be made more quickly. At BorgWarner, we have technical centers positioned in every region to bring our global engineering resources to our customers locally, designing solutions for markets with specific challenges. Again, building close customer relationships is the key to putting technology on the road. Like localized production, we feel localizing our engineering expertise is very important.

What role do you see entrepreneurs playing in the automotive industry today and moving forward into the future?

BorgWarner was established by four entrepreneurial companies that recognized automotive suppliers can only survive by having the right technology at the right time. When many suppliers were closing their doors, our founding businesses banded together to support each other through market downturns and by investing in research and development. The same entrepreneurial spirit still drives us today.

In the future, BorgWarner will continue to collaborate internally, just as we do with our customers externally. We’ve developed expertise in a number of areas – solenoids, air management and friction materials, for example – that complement each other. In fact, we have a process that brings our top talent together to identify trends, opportunities and technologies that will impact our future and drive growth at BorgWarner. Just like generations of leaders before us, this kind of entrepreneurial thinking will influence the products we develop in the future.

You have a goal of reaching $15 billion in sales by 2020. How are you going to make that growth happen?

Just a year ago, I invited employees from functional areas around the world to participate in a three-day, large-scale conference to define the direction of the company over the next 10 years. During the high-energy conference, we defined a new broader vision and established key strategies to reach $15 billion in sales by 2020. Accelerating innovation, developing and attracting talent, driving speed and agility – these will all boost growth. Our goals are aggressive, but with the can-do spirit of BorgWarner’s team, we know we are capable of achieving them.

What is the importance of a group like MICHauto and its efforts to promote, grow and retain the automotive industry?

The automotive industry is a huge part of Michigan’s economy. As a state, we have collectively taken that for granted in the past. We can’t afford to continue to take a passive approach. We need to change perceptions to reflect reality; the automotive industry offers rewarding career opportunities, and Michigan is a great place to live, work and play. Promoting the automotive industry is critical, and MICHauto is playing a key role by leading a proactive approach.