Test Drive with Alexander Sagel

Head of the KSPG Hardparts Division

The test of an innovative diesel engine from Mercedes-Benz takes Dr Alexander Sagel on a drive through the Weinsberger Valley winegrowing region. The V6 power train of its E-Class 350 BlueTEC is the first engine from a series production passenger vehicle to feature steel pistons—developed and brought to the production stage by KS Kolbenschmidt in nearby Neckarsulm. Together with its customer from Untertürkheim and its development partner Hirschvogel, the company recently received the Steel Innovation Prize 2015 for this novelty.

Important North-South and East-West routes still interconnect in the Weinsberger Valley today, and some motorists associate the Weinsberger Valley motorway junction with traffic congestion. Even hundreds of years ago, this place was already a popular meeting point for highly diverse ethnic groups. Probably the most well-known were the Guelphs, whose momentous withdrawal in 1140 gives the Weinsberger castle its name “Weibertreu” [‘womanly-loyal’]. The long-besieged denizens of Weinsberg were only allowed to let their women depart with everything they could carry. Without hesitation, these women chose their menfolk and carried them ‘loyally’ down the mountain to freedom. We are now in the northern foothills of the Swabian-Franconian mountains, which the people of Neckarsulm consider the lowlands. The Sulm River runs through the little town of Weinsberg and flows into the Neckar shortly thereafter. “I learned that our company headquarters location is pronounced ‘Neckar-sulm’ and not ‘Neckars-ulm’, but that’s all the insider knowledge I have,” says the phd material scientist puckishly and adds: “but, although I don’t come from here, I feel very good and completely at home in this region.” He has lived in Swabia since the mid-1990s after studying in Berlin and holding various stations in the USA. Having first worked at the university in Ulm, then at Daimler and subsequently at KSPG in Neckarsulm (since 2005), he now lives with his family in nearby Leingarten.

Turning a passion into a profession

Living here was actually a childhood dream of his. That desire stemmed from his first great hobby, mineralogy, to which he fully dedicated himself in his childhood and adolescent years. Brimming with scientific curiosity, he began to document his fascination for minerals in a paper on the crystalline structure of quartz when he was eight years old: “The forms of the crystals, their structures and colours were incredibly fascinating to me.” Sagel was born nearFrankfurt in 1971, but lived in a village of 350 inhabitants in Northern Hesse starting from age 11. However, minerals are relatively scarce in Hesse, thus prompting his early desire to head south. This impulse also found its outlet in hunting excursions to the Grossglockner with his father and two older brothers.


When not occupied with hunting, he was either searching for minerals or photographing them. Today he imparts this fascination to his own 9 and 12-year-old children—for example, when they search for hidden ‘treasures’ in the waste rockpile of the Black Forest Clara Mine on their holidays together. It is understandable that this early passion also influenced his choice of studies and still animates him when his professional work centres upon material compositions and substances. Special fields, which do not merely draw his occasional involvement, but which actually represent the technological core of the Hardparts Division. As the head of this Division, which merges worldwide KSPG activities for pistons, bearings and the casting business, he was able to test drive the Mercedes-Benz steel piston engine very early in the trial phase. But the series production motor is also able to meet Sagel’s expectations on longer routes, and actually behaves “surprisingly unobtrusively”. Even upon critical observation, the Kolbenschmidt boss can also discern no variance from aluminium pistons. He knows that the difference first becomes apparent at the petrol station, when the 3–4% lower consumption manifests itself, although steel pistons certainly also still have “upside potential in terms of performance”.

Personal competitive gene

Sagel is one of those people with a driving thirst for knowledge. He has, as he puts it, a competitive gene in him. Perhaps this is also a reason for his once strong dedication as a decathlete: “I like to compete against others and sports would be nothing for me without competition.” It all started during the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, where he saw Carl Lewis win four gold medals. This momentous event kindled his fascination for track and fi eld sports. In the meantime, his children are also developing their own interests in sports and other areas. This allows the family man time to continue training himself later in the evening and stay fit.


There he also sees parallels to everyday business, because the Hardparts Division would also not be able to move ahead without continuous improvement and advanced development: “When I see our strongly dedicated teams here or in Mexico or in the Czech Republic, all working on the improvement of processes and products with unbelievable energy, then it’s a great motivation for me,” he admits excitedly. The steel pistons in his Mercedes are a current example of this.