ATTI talks to Groupe PSA’s vice president for powertrain system design, Sophie Duzelier, about the best and worst aspects of her job, and the latest challenges in engine research and development
What career did you want when you were growing up?
As a teenager I really wanted to become a scientific researcher and a professor. I was really fascinated by Marie Curie. She was a committed woman who had emigrated from Poland to France to be able to study science. She was also the first woman to be appointed professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris. It was an inspiration for me.
Some years later, I studied electrical engineering and then completed a PhD in automatic control systems. During my time doing the PhD, I had the opportunity to apply my research work to the industry. It made me appreciate the challenges that come with working in the industry. So, at that time, I gave up the idea of becoming a researcher and switched to a career in the industry.
What was your career path to get to where you are now?
I started my career at PSA in 2000, as a control design engineer in the R&D department. First, I worked on several advanced projects such as dual clutch transmissions and hybrid powertrains. Then I was made responsible for system development of an automated manual transmission for middle-range vehicles.
This product was launched in 2006.
I began the second period of my career in 2008, when I joined PSA’s planning and strategy division. I became the automatic and dual clutch transmissions program manager, so it was beyond pure engineering work.
I was then appointed executive assistant for the powertrain and chassis division of the R&D department. I was back in R&D. And in this role I directly contributed to the GM and PSA merger project, which was a great experience. I learned a lot about business negotiations, legal contracts and intellectual property rights.
In 2014, as I had an electrical background, I was appointed to a new job managing the electrification ramp-up for system design activities. This job included development of the PSA PHEV and BEV powertrains.
Since 2018 I have been in charge of the powertrain system design division.
What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
The automotive industry offers new challenges nearly every day, and at PSA we are completely in that mindset. I love working with passionate and involved people all over the world to tackle these challenges. And, of course, I also feel really satisfied when a vehicle with a new powertrain is praised by customers and the media.
Do legislators help or hinder your work?
Both. On the one hand, legislators provide a frame for any engineering work. But on the other hand, requirements are often frozen late, so this is not always compatible with development procedures. That’s a new challenge because we have to be agile and adapt to vehicle trends. Often we will work on several scenarios, and in the end choose the scenario that fits the legislation.
Legislators banning technologies is a problem, in my opinion. Legislators should just specify a requirement and let engineers propose the solution.
What would be your dream powertrain to develop?
The whole industry now has a responsibility regarding environmental preservation, so I don’t have the same answer today that I would have had 20 years ago. Now, my dream powertrain would be non-pollutant from cradle to grave. It would be highly efficient, silent and also fun to drive, so torque is immediately available.
What will be powering a typical family sedan in 2040?
As an engineer, my thinking is quite logical. Fossil fuels will be banned in many areas by 2040, synthetic fuels are yet to emerge, hydrogen fuel cell technology offers poor performance compared with batteries that directly use electrical energy, and there are also constraints with hydrogen storage. So, I think the most likely power scenario for a sedan in 2040 will be pure electric. But we have to work to improve range, charging speeds and costs to provide really clean and affordable products. A number of questions also remain over green electricity supply and raw materials sourcing.
What is the biggest challenge for PSA at the moment?
I think the main challenge is to produce the most flexible range of powertrains possible; a range that will be able to bring clean and affordable products to the market at the right time. Therefore, I think maintaining flexibility and agility levels is the most challenging thing for PSA.
What was your first car?
I’m from a family that loved Citroën cars; my father and my grandfather have always driven Citroëns. My grandfather, for example, had the famous Traction Avant in the 1940s. So that meant my first car was also a Citroën, an AX K.Way. It was very light – 642kg or something like that.
What do you drive now?
The horsepower that I get from my car has changed a little bit from back then. Now I have a Peugeot 3008 PHEV, 300ps. It’s a pleasure to drive in pure electric mode in urban areas. It also offers low consumption. And, really, it provides fantastic dynamic performance – it’s so safe to overtake.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This Q&A was first published in Engine & Powertrain Technology International January 2021 – one of the world’s biggest magazines dedicated to powertrain technology and implementation. Supported by the world’s leading powertrain developers and manufacturers, the magazine highlights the latest trends, developments and technological advancements in tire manufacturing and engineering.