San Diego’s Achates Power Opens Metro Detroit Office

After gaining market traction with its opposed-piston engine, San Diego-based Achates Power is opening an office in Farmington Hills, MI, the company announced this week.

The company made the move to be close to Michigan’s automotive and defense industries, Achates CEO David Johnson said. “We wanted to be close to our customers, our supply base, and the pool of engineering talent,” he said. “It was time to open a Michigan office.”

Founded in 2004, much of the past decade was spent perfecting the company’s engine, Johnson said. The technology hinges on opposed-piston, two-stroke engine architecture originally discovered in the 1930s, but then eventually abandoned because the tools of the time weren’t able to make it cost-effective.

“Our founder, Dr. James Lemke, had the idea to dust off the opposed-piston engine and modernize it to address current market needs,” Johnson explained. He said the Achates engine is cleaner, cheaper, and more fuel-efficient than traditional internal combustion engines, and it can be used in cars, trucks, military vehicles, ships, and in power generation.

Achates has experienced explosive growth in the past two years—it doubled its staff to 80, and the company expects to add 20 at its Michigan office by the end of the year—and Johnson sees the accelerated interest in its engines as the result of a fundamental fuel efficiency problem in the transportation industry.

“The industry has been working for a very long time to squeeze every last drop of fuel efficiency out of the current technology, and they’re finding they’re at the end of their rope to do that affordably,” Johnson said. “Sure, you could use exotic materials, but that’s not commercially attractive.”

What differentiates Achates engines, he said, are their rate of efficiency and relatively low cost—very compelling to vehicle manufacturers, especially with more stringent fuel economy standards looming.

Count TARDEC, the U.S. Army tank and automotive research center in Warren, MI, as one of Achates’s satisfied customers. It just awarded a second contract worth $14 million to Achates to develop the Advanced Combat Engine as part of the Army’s 30-year strategy to modernize tactical and combat vehicles. It was this contract, along with a deal with an unnamed auto manufacturer, that helped spur the move to Detroit, Johnson added.

At Achates, Johnson said the business model involves selling its technology rather than building engines. The next phase of the business involves licensing its technology to high-volume manufacturers and continuing to refine its two-stroke, three-cylinder engine prototype.

“We help our customers do the fundamental design work to apply our technology to their engine,” he said, adding that a number of major original equipment manufacturers are already using Achates technology. “There’s a hunger in the industry for new solutions, so this is a very exciting time for us.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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