Pedestrian passive safety is a concept that means little to the average American, yet it’s been part of vehicle safety development in Europe for nearly a decade
Altran, the largest global, multi-industry engineering, research, and development powerhouse, with $3 billion in revenue and 45,000 employees in 20 countries--but relative newcomer to the Detroit region--has deep expertise in pedestrian passive safety. Altran’s skilled workforce has been testing pedestrian passive safety solutions, as well as airbags and vehicle interiors, in its World Class Passive Safety Center
in Wixom since opening in November, 2107. The center joins others of its kind operated by Altran
in Austria, Germany, Canada, and France.
Known as active bonnet or active hood, these passive safety systems work to decrease injury to pedestrians in the case of impact, and in some cases, the need for these systems can drive the design of the vehicle. Manufacturers that export vehicles to Europe know all about active bonnet systems, but it’s just a matter of time before domestic vehicle models will be required to incorporate this type of safety technology, says Sebastian Wipfler, manager of the Altran’s World Class Center in Wixom.
Sebastian Wipfler manages the Altran Passive Safety Center in Wixom
“If you are driving a car, you can work to prevent an accident, but if there is an accident, the car has to be developed to give the pedestrian the highest chance to survive,” says Wipfler. European regulations require testing to prove that vehicles will do minimal damage to pedestrians on impact.
Here in the U.S., there were 5,376 pedestrian fatalities in 2015, an increase
from the previous year.
“The automotive industry is continually working to make cars safer, and one of the critical elements of making a car driverless is managing the safety,” says Mohan Raju, Altran head of automotive North America."We all work to prevent collision using active safety, or maneuvering the car using technology, and this is essentially the work going on in the autonomous vehicle space.”
Until driverless vehicles are mainstream in the market, passive safety measures that minimize or eliminate injury to pedestrians and passengers are an important part of future automotive safety regulations in the U.S.
“Europe is ahead of the U.S. in passive safety, particularly in pedestrian safety,” Raju says.
Expanding to the U.S.
While Altran could have located its center in several locations here in the U.S., the Detroit region’s dense population of vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, robust global automotive leadership, and automotive engineering talent made Michigan the most attractive and smartest choice.
Altran clients, including OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, were seeking a local presence of expertise, and Altran recognized the market opportunity. The scouting process began in 2016, when the head of the Altran World Class Center in Graz, Austria met informally with members of the Destination Detroit
team of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and asked some smart questions.
Detroit’s automotive reputation solidified Altran’s decision quickly. While it may make sense for startups to consider the west coast, every automotive resource has a presence in the Detroit region.
“Where is the best place to be for automotive? You always end up in the Detroit area,” says Wipfler. “Even west coast companies, most of them now have offices here. The Tier 1s are here. Everyone needs to be present in the Detroit area. That’s what we saw.”
When Altran was ready to focus in and select a location for its testing facility, it returned to the connection it had made with the Destination Detroit team.
“From our conversations, we learned Detroit is where they wanted to be. For automotive engineering and R&D, this is the hub, and the customers they were looking for and the leadership in the auto industry are all here,” says Will Butler, business development representative with the Detroit Regional Chamber.
Butler and his team took a deep dive and learned that Altran needed a site on a moderate parcel of land that could accommodate a 500-foot straight track for testing, and be enclosed by fencing to maintain client confidentiality. They researched dozens of locations, and brought on board a real estate expert to find just the right building, in an appropriate location, that could accommodate customization on a tight schedule.
“It was a little bit like a puzzle, and certainly an interesting challenge,” says Butler. “As economic developers, we want projects to be easy and quick, and we worked hard to help Altran find just what they needed. Speed to market is the name of the game.”
Support on the ground
Assuming the quarterback role, the Destination Detroit team kept the project on track and moving forward by tapping into a deep network of experts, including county and city departments that responded quickly and worked to provide approval for the site’s specific needs.
Ultimately, Altran’s successful expansion into the Detroit region--and into the United States-- was a collaborative effort between Destination Detroit, Oakland County, and the city of Wixom. Destination Detroit’s long standing experience in the needs of advanced automotive industries helped Altran meet its goals for growth.
“The people at Destination Detroit were very helpful all along,” says Raju. “Once we chose our building, it needed special approvals from the city of Wixom to be built to our needs, and the Detroit Regional Chamber helped us coordinate with the city to get the approvals.”
Now In operation with about eight employees in Wixom, Altran plans to grow to a staff of 25 within a couple of years.
“Altran has a very large global presence, but we are relatively new to the North American market. For us to get entry into this region as a service provider to any of the OEMs or Tier1s, we have to be ahead of the game, and better at something that not many other providers can offer,” says Raju. “One of our entry strategies was to bring in the World Class Center for Passive Safety in Detroit, and expand into offering each OEM all the other services we can provide. We have some of the best facilities in Europe, and this is a footprint for us to expand our offerings to the North American market.”
With mobility as a key area of expertise, Altran is poised to provide a diverse portfolio of services to its clients from its World Class Center in Wixom.
“We are working to focus on a combination of local delivery with Austrian expertise and Indian engineering capability to provide cost effective, highly skilled solutions in the area of passive safety to clients in the Detroit area, and across the U.S. in general," Raju says.
“Our strategy is to enter with a high level of expertise, drive cost efficiency, and engage for the long term.”
Visit Altran’s booth at SAE’s World Congress Experience (WCX) at Cobo Center on April 10-12, 2018. Experience Altran’s global services and learn about new engineering developments, including pedestrian passive safety.
Photos courtesy of Altran