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AutoSpeed Interview: Powerchip's Wayne Besanko - Part 1

Putting the man at the helm of Australia's oldest hot chip company under the microscope.

by Julian Edgar

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Wayne Besanko is the Managing Director of Powerchip, Australia's oldest hot chip company. A man who very strongly defends his company's products against criticism - but will not allow any magazine to do a story on Powerchip's chip development or programming procedures - he agreed to a full and frank interview with AutoSpeed. This two part series is a completely unedited transcript of the tape.

AutoSpeed: Wayne, what's your background in automotives and electronics?

Wayne Besanko: Well, I've always had an interest in automotives since Year 7 at school. I followed that through by being an active reader of everything automotive from - back then - Motor Manual, Modern Motor, Wheels, Car & Driver, Car and any magazine that I could get my hands on. I then did Automotives in Year 10 and always kept a keen interest in the automotive industry, even at Uni and then in my other marketing jobs.

AutoSpeed: What did you study at Uni?

Wayne Besanko: Commerce.

AutoSpeed: So you don't have any tertiary training in computing or in automotives?

Wayne Besanko: No, I have other people in the organisation that do those roles. Bill Dimovski, our senior programmer, studied Digital Design at Monash University, and his expertise is in designing the software. We also have other people in IT that provide the back-up for our NT server, and we allocate each role based on the person's expertise in that area.

AutoSpeed: How would you describe the products that you sell?

Wayne Besanko: We offer a cost-effective means of improving a car's performance. The benefits that a customer receives are more power, more performance, better acceleration, generally smoother acceleration, and also our ability to customize chips to suit customer needs.

AutoSpeed: Leaving aside the custom chips for a moment, the (comments about the) chips that go into standard cars implies very strongly that the manufacturer has got their programming wrong.

Wayne Besanko: That's correct. They're wrong for a number of reasons, and on the whole, at least 95 per cent of the cars on the road have opportunities in terms of engine management to obtain more power from them. In general, the reasons why manufacturers de-tune cars are for servicing, where the service intervals influence the manufacturer's program; on European cars insurance regulations can specify a maximum horsepower rating - particularly in Germany; they (the manufacturers) have to adapt - and this is the main reason - to poor quality fuel in many cases, particularly 91 octane or as low as 89 octane in some countries; and cars these days are built down to a lowest common denominator. We have chips that are available for standard unleaded cars and we promote our customers to use premium unleaded fuel which means that we can then advance the timing beyond what we can for cars running standard unleaded.

AutoSpeed: Of the chips that you sell for cars, how many have you developed and how many are bought in from outside suppliers?

Wayne Besanko:Approximately 95 per cent of our range in terms of models that are available are manufactured locally, and about 5 per cent of the actual cars that we sell are sourced overseas.

AutoSpeed: But the actual program development for those cars - does that fall into the same category of 95 per cent local and 5 percent overseas? 'Manufacturing' of the chip is not a very specific term.

Wayne Besanko: I don't understand what you mean.

AutoSpeed: The chips that you develop yourself, what proportion of those would you have in a car, have the car on the dyno, perhaps have the engine out on an engine dyno, do five gas analysis, study air/fuel ratios, do durability testing - perhaps 1000 hour test trials - the sort of thing that every vehicle manufacturer does when they are developing the original software.

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Wayne Besanko: In terms of the development of the chip, we go through the most stringent test procedures of probably any chip company in Australia. Air/fuel ratios are important; we have a portable air/fuel ratio meter that we test air/fuel ratios on during development - both on the road and on the dyno. In terms of long-term testing, we have a group of our customers that always provide feedback to us - I guess that's one of advantages, that our customers become part of the Powerchip family and will assist us in feedback of any area that could be improved or is perfect and doesn't need any improvement. So the testing does take place long-term, and it has over the last nine and a half years. If we found any area that was wrong that we were doing, we would improve it.

AutoSpeed: How would you feel if you bought a brand new car and you found a problem with the car, and the manufacturer said "You're part of the Holden family, you're part of doing our long-term testing for us"?

Wayne Besanko: As in a manufacturer approaching us to do development work?

AutoSpeed: No, as in you making a personal purchase - buying a motor vehicle and having exactly the same philosophy as you just espoused, espoused to you. You buy a Holden and the steering wheel falls off, and they say "Well I'm glad that you have told us that, that's part of our long-term test and development that our customers can tell us what's good and what's bad. You're part of the Holden family because you have told us that the steering wheel falls off." How would you feel as a customer being put in that position?

Wayne Besanko: Well I guess it's a matter of looking at the runs on the board. If we look at what has happened over the last nine and a half years, we don't have a car that has ever suffered engine damage as a result of fitting a Powerchip. I believe that we are the only chip company in Australia that can make that claim. We stand behind our runs on the board; no-one has ever had a chip that has caused engine damage from Powerchip.

AutoSpeed: I have talked to another head honcho of a chip company who has said to me that he expected about thirty percent of his chips not to give any benefit. I think in the past that you have said to me that you believe that a hundred per cent of your chips will give benefit. Is that the case?

Wayne Besanko: Yes, one hundred percent of the chips that we offer for sale, the customers receive the benefits of fitting the chip. If there is a car that it is impossible to get (extra) power from, then we simply don't offer an upgrade for it.

AutoSpeed: What's one of those sorts of cars for which it is impossible to get power from and which you don't offer a chip?

Wayne Besanko:(7 second pause) There's probably a handful of cars that are very difficult to obtain power from, but still small gains are possible. In particular, on part throttle, the most difficult cars to get power from are Porsche 993 RSCS, BMW M3 3 litre and probably Range Rover 3.9.

AutoSpeed: Do you offer chips for those vehicles?

Wayne Besanko: Yeah we do, for the benefits that we receive from them. So if we look at a BMW M3 3 litre, our Powerchip offers a twelve kilowatt increase in power. As a percentage of the overall car which is 210 kilowatts, that's roughly say five percent. What we say is, if the benefit to the customer is worthwhile then they should consider purchasing our product. If the customer wants twelve kilowatts from us from our chip, that's one point, but it also has other benefits as well. We raise the rev limit to the level that the customer specifies, we smooth out the transition between part throttle and full throttle, we remove an inherent problem of backfiring on cold start - on trailing throttle which causes a misfire or a backfire, we remove the speed limit if necessary, we change the VANOS camshaft timing to give more power down low, and if all of those benefits to the customer (makes) them perceive that it is worthwhile purchasing our product - then they do. So a chip is more than just kilowatts at the flywheel or at the wheels.

AutoSpeed: But isn't this the car that you nominated that in fact you didn't sell a chip for because it didn't give an effective power gain?

Wayne Besanko: No it's not. The cars that I mentioned are ones that a minimal power gain can be had from.

AutoSpeed: So back to my original question, what is a car for which you believe you can get no power gain, and therefore you do not offer a chip for?

Wayne Besanko: It would probably be a McLaren F1. The car pings on normal premium unleaded which means that.. well even then it's possible to get some benefits from that (chip) because it would stop pinging. It depends on what the customer wants. That's a car that would be very difficult to get (more) power on full throttle from.

AutoSpeed: So there is no car that you believe will not benefit from a chip? .since you haven't been able to name one.

Wayne Besanko: No, none come to mind at the moment.

AutoSpeed: So there aren't any cars that you don't offer chips for because you don't believe that you can get a power gain?

Wayne Besanko: That's correct because the customer looks at the benefits that are available to them. If we pick the RSCS Porsche we can get minimal power gains at the top end of the rev range but there are benefits to be had from say, two thousand revs through to five thousand revs.

In Part 2: money-back guarantees, emissions, and dyno development and testing.

AutoSpeed Interview: Powerchip's Wayne Besanko - Part 2

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