TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — In the era of regulation, fuel efficiency is king.
Automakers are relying on suppliers to innovate fuel saving technology — even incrementally.
Active grille shutters are among the latest development in the industry on its quest to meet the CAFE fleet standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025.
Warren, Mich.-based chrome-plating supplier SRG Global Inc. plans to capitalize on the projected $50 million North American market for the shutters.
Injection molder SRG developed its integrated active grille shutters at its Taylor Advanced Development Center in Taylor, Mich., which opened in 2010.
Active grille shutters open to allow air to flow through the radiator to cool the engine. However, when that air flow isn't needed, the shutters close to reduce drag, creating a more aerodynamic ride, thus improving fuel economy.
The shutters were used on vehicles in Europe before making the transition into the North American auto market where they are on everything from compact cars to pickup trucks.
SRG, though, offers integrated system, where the shutters and grille are shipped as one component to automakers, Dave Prater, SRG's president and CEO, said in an interview with Crain's Detroit Business, a sister publication of Plastics News, at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
Competitor shutters are a separate part added to the grille during assembly, he said. Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Chrysler Group, BMW AG and others have all incorporated non-integrated active grille shutters in recent models.
Prater said after years of researching new component options for SRG to pursue, integrated grille shutters made the most sense.
"We sought to take our decorative product and create functionality, which led us to take a look at our product and find growth areas," Prater said. "Today's market is driven more and more by innovation, and we're ready to take a chunk of the North American market [for grille shutters]."
SRG tested its integrated active grille shutter technology at a wind tunnel facility in North Carolina, which is used by NASCAR race teams and engineers. Component testing occurred at the University of Michigan's smaller wind tunnels.
Prater said SRG's integrated system achieves more than 1 percent better fuel economy savings than competitors. SRG's shutters are integrated much closer to the grille than competitor components, which reduces more drag, he said.
In the meantime, SRG has been expanding its chroming plants globally. In April, SRG announced it would expand its Irapuato, Mexico plant by more than 215,000 square feet. The expansion is expected to be complete in 2015. The supplier is also expanding its Ibi, Spain plant, as well.
SRG, a subsidiary of Auburn Hills-based Guardian Industries Corp., generated $775 million in revenue in 2013.
In late 2012, SRG's parent, Guardian, sold a minority stake of the glassmaker to KGCI LLC, a subsidiary of Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries Inc. The company became the largest individual shareholder of Guardian. The deal reduced the stakes of longtime executives and Davidson family members.
Guardian founder Bill Davidson died in 2009.