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1 November, 2006 - 15:08 By Staff Reporter

Pi Group offloads division to South Africans

One of the most successful automotive sector companies to emerge from the East of England is selling its road car division to niche South African electronics firm, Control Instruments (CI).

Partner to practically all the world’s leading carmakers and suppliers, Pi Technology is awaiting South African Reserve Bank approval before its assets are transferred to CI in a £5 million deal with parent firm, Pi Group.

CI will use the acquisition to cement its position in the UK and underpin its own global ambitions.

No announcement has yet been made on CI’s plans for the site most associated with the Pi Group, Milton Hall.

Pi has twice won Business Weekly’s East of England Business Awards crown, including the inaugural contest in 1990-91, demonstrating our ability to spot a potential world force.

It was established by Tony Purnell in 1987 with an original staff of five, working from the kitchen of his home in Cambridge; he quickly capitalised on links that he had made within the motor racing industry while studying in the United States.

Pi Research’s on-car data acquisition systems, the Pi ‘Black Box’ was soon used extensively in the IndyCar Championship and was the first electronic dash display and combined data logger to be used in professional motor sport.

Pi Technology emerged from its glamorous sister company, Pi Research, in 1991 before it spun out three years later on the back of its work on a diesel engine controller designed for Detroit Diesel Corporation.

The success of the project led Pi to address the commercial automotive marketplace and secure further diesel projects.

The company grew rapidly, producing satellite offices in Detroit and Frankfurt with a headcount of around 140 at its peak.

It now specialises in the design of a wide range of electronic products for the automotive industry, specifically in the areas of engine control systems, infotainment and information displays, alternative fuel applications – including hybrid technology – and body and suspension control electronics.

Today one in four heavy trucks in the US uses engine control systems designed by Pi Technology and numerous motor vehicles worldwide incorporate architectures, electronics and software designs from Pi Technology.

However, over the past two to three years the company has reduced the amount of R & D it has handled and the number of high-grade technical engineers it employs has dropped to 90.

The Ford Motor Company, which bought the Pi Group in 2000, brought together Pi Research, Cosworth Racing and Jaguar Racing to form the new Ford Premier Performance Division, ready for Jaguar’s assault on Formula 1.

After Ford’s decision to withdraw from Formula 1 in 2004, Pi Group was purchased by 21st Century Racing LLC, owned by Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe.

CI serves selected niche markets in the automotive and transportation industries and is driving a strategy to globalise its businesses. Design and manufacture of products is handled by subsidiary, Control Instruments Shurlok.

The decision to acquire Pi Tech followed the appointment of Rod Forrester, group executive director and then MD of Control Instruments Shurlok, to investigate and oversee the establishment of a UK-based European sales, engineering and purchasing operation.

CI decided to expand its existing relationship with Pi Group rather than start a new operation, enabling the firm to capitalise on Pi Technology’s excellent reputation and working relationship with all the major international OEMs.

CI believes the partnership between Control Instruments Shurlok and Pi Technology has been tried and tested with customers worldwide, adding that it has already taken orders for new products – instrument and information displays and engine control units – from two major international OEMs and additional business is in the pipeline.

CI sees the acquisition of Pi Technology as the next logical step in the process of cementing the relationship between the companies, allowing the group to expand its OEM operation from a solid and well regarded international base that is profitable and cash positive.

Control Instruments Shurlok and Pi Technology will be run as one business with the management and staff of both companies being retained.

Sales, marketing, new business and product development will be managed out of the UK, the US and Europe, while manufacturing, certain engineering facilities and customer support for South African OEMs will continue to be based in South Africa.

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