For five decades, Amar Bose has puzzled over why potholes seem harder to conquer than Mount Everest.
In a cleared-out parking lot at Bose Corp.’s headquarters, a test driver guides a Lexus at 25 mph toward what would appear to be an unfriendly introduction to a two-by-six lying on its side, ankle-high.
A childlike grin spreads across 76-year-old Amar Bose’s face as the vehicle does something most can’t: jump over the board, like a cat bounding over a fallen log.
The sedan’s experimental, Bose-designed suspension, driven by four electromagnetic motors, had quickly pulled each wheel up, then down.
It’s a stunt, triggered when the car passed over a reflective strip that activated a sensor linked to the suspension. But the feat hints at the more practical capabilities of a suspension system that is Amar Bose’s answer to a longtime engineering challenge: giving a car good cornering capabilities without sacrificing a smooth ride.
He started tackling the challenge in secret in 1980, even as the privately held company he founded kept churning out the high-end speakers and stereo equipment that have made the Bose name famous among audiophiles.
“This by far consumes most of my time,” Bose said in an interview at Bose headquarters, where he remains chairman and technical director at an age when many have long since retired. “For all these years, it’s been rare that I didn’t work on it at some point every day.”
Unlike spring-and-shock absorber systems, Bose’s suspension uses high-voltage electrical coils and magnets to counter bumps in the road and prevent roll around corners.
Will people pay for it?
The approach is drawing praise as a revolutionary way to ensure a smooth ride, but doubts center on its cost as rivals push their own suspension improvements that are less radical, but more affordable. Bose’s system could add $5,000 or so to a car’s cost, along with a few hundred pounds.
“Technically, on paper, I think it’s brilliant,” said Aly Badawy, a vice president at Livonia, Mich.-based auto parts maker TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., which is developing its own high-end suspension system expected to be ready years before Bose’s. “The problem is, is it going to be affordable?”
Bose says his suspension’s technical advantages will win over high-end car buyers.
“If you ride over those roll bumps,” he said, pointing to obstacles set up for the demonstration, “after just 50 feet you know you’ve been in a vehicle that has comfort like nothing else.”
By year’s end, Bose hopes to select a single automaker from a handful of companies interested in making the suspension commercially available in five to six years. He wouldn’t identify the companies.