TEST DRIVE WITH
DR BERTHOLD FRANZ

Head of the Pierburg business units Automotive Emission Systems and Commercial Diesel Systems

Weighing in at 11 metric tons, all terrain-capable, equipped with special armor, and roomy enough to provide ten people with excellent all-round protection. Powered by a 6.9-liter engine packing 1,250 Newton meters of torque, this all-wheel-drive vehicle quickly reaches its permissible maximum speed of 100 km/h: this is the key performance data of the Survivor-R, a new protected police vehicle, which Dr Berthold Franz recently put through its paces at the Rheinmetall Landsysteme test site in Kassel.

Dr Franz heads the Emission Reduction unit at Pierburg, where he is also responsible for the unit that covers the company’s full range of commercial vehicle components. So he’s no neophyte when it comes to trucks. After driving only a few meters in the Survivor, one difference compared to a large truck was instantly apparent: the absence of rolling motion in the cab. “The chassis doesn’t take on a life of its own. You get direct feedback from the vehicle, and you don’t feel the second cab either, which is internally suspended as an anti-blast protection measure. In fact, it’s a lot like driving a big SUV,” declares the former head of Thermodynamic Development for heavy commercial vehicles at Dutch truck maker DAF. The twelve-gear automatic transmission contributes to this feeling, while the large truck-type steering wheel makes life easier for the driver as well. Franz’s overall impression: “It feels like a car.” Born in the Lower Rhine town of Geldern and with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, his career has embraced both the car and truck side of the automotive industry. After majoring in Thermodynamics and writing his PhD dissertation on the formation of soot in internal combustion engines, he spent three years working on a two-liter diesel engine at the Opel plant in Rüsselsheim. Then came four years at smart-BRABUS in Bottrop, where he would ultimately have overall responsibility for complete development of the Smart forfour. Following a brief stay at Pierburg as head of the test facility, in 2007 he moved on to new duties at the DAF plant in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Learning the language as a symbol

But Franz remained true to his Lower Rhine home, especially since his wife works at the University of Duisburg’s Institute for Mechanical Engineering, where she tests fuels. The daily commute between the Moers area and Eindhoven helped him to adjust to the local language, he explains, noting that he was communicating with his new people completely in Dutch within a matter of months. He saw this as an important gesture toward his team, especially since he was the first-ever German in a leading position of the Dutch company’s engine development department in Eindhoven. Owing to the connection between DAF and Paccar, American English soon became the third company language. This didn’t leave much time for a private life or physical fitness (bicycling and endurance sports), to say nothing of his hobby, restoring and riding old two-cylinder Ducati, BMW and Laverda motorcycles. At the beginning of 2015 he returned to Pierburg as head of the Commercial Diesel Systems business unit. Franz, to whom the low fluctuation at the Neuss-based company had come to seem like a positive thing, it was like coming home. “Stability in a company is a tremendous asset, and I definitely prefer an environment where I know all the key people personally. At large companies, which I partly know from previous jobs, that just isn’t possible.” After just nine months at Pierburg, the 51-year old mechanical engineer was entrusted with a second business unit, Automotive Emission Systems, effectively doubling his workload.

Fleet-footed heavyweight

A double workload was pretty much what the Survivor-R experienced when Dr Franz steered the 15-metric-ton vehicle through the obstacle course at the Rheinmetall test site. Slowly but without major difficulty, the emergency vehicle overcame every hurdle without contorting the vehicle’s double floor. Designed for a fording depth of 1.20 meters and equipped with internal and external fire extinguishers, the vehicle seems capable of handling even the toughest road and terrain conditions. But for Franz, the most demanding driving event still lay ahead: a seemingly insurmountable cement-paved hill with a 60% incline towered directly in front of him.

I think it’s a great vehicle, even if parking’s bound to be a challenge

Putting the pedal to the metal, though, the intrepid test driver had no problem coaxing the vehicle up and over this hurdle too, just as if the vehicle had been specifically designed for tackling steep inclines. Summing things up, Franz says, “I think it’s a great vehicle, even if parking’s bound to be a challenge. But especially given the many diffuse threats we face today even in our immediate surroundings, I think a vehicle equipped with this kind of technology will be seen as something protective. And of course this also goes for the vehicle’s occupants during an operation. Once the doors are locked, this armored vehicle with its ten centimeter-thick windows and ventilation system is essentially cut off from the world outside.”