AUBURN HILLS (WWJ) — The folks at Delphi’s huge Customer and Technology Center – Michigan in Auburn Hills know they work on high tech.

This gleaming 465,000-square-foot research center bristles with computer power as well as horsepower. Here, in a kitchen-clean, white-lab-coat environment, more than 600 people work on wringing every last erg of energy efficiency out of the internal combustion engine.

And frankly it rankles them when the rest of the world still thinks of the car business as still being a bunch of dumb grease monkeys.

“I mean, look what’s going on in here,” says James Zizelman, engineering director for gasoline powertrains at Delphi Powertrain Systems, which is based at the CTCM. “Silicon Valley has created this false idea that only what they do is high tech, and this isn’t.”

I got a first hand look at CTCM in a tour Friday morning. Since emerging from its bankruptcy, Kevin J. Quinlan, vice president of gasoline engine management systems at Delphi Powertrain Systems, says the company concentrates its products and efforts in one of three areas — safe, green, and connected.

Auburn Hills is one of 15 global research centers for Delphi. Its efforts include building and testing exhaust gas sensors, testing the performance of air induction components, vibration-testing Delphi components and systems, and an engine dynamometer lab that tests advanced engine designs. The vibration lab can simulate the entire life of a car in 60 hours, while other labs can run components like fuel injectors through a billion cycles, far more than they’d ever face in real life.

The most interesting technology I saw Friday was the GDCI engine, an acronym for Gasoline Direct Compression Ignition.

This engine uses compression alone to ignite the gasoline-air mixture — no spark plug needed. The engines will still have spark plugs, because sometimes they’ll be needed as a backup (as in for cold starts). But like diesels, this method of ignition will offer far superior fuel economy over sparkplug engines — as much as 25 to 30 percent more, according to Quinlan, Zizelman, and Richard L. Moldenhauer, manager of powertrain and common labs at the CTCM.

Zizelman said he expects the GDCI engine to be in cars sometime early in the 2020s.

Zizelman noted that “this is the most exciting time ever to be involved in powertrain in my career,” thanks to the United States’ looming 54 mpg fleet requirement and Europe’s looming requirement that engines emit no more than 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer traveled


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