WE CHAT TO ROB WILEY, MARKETING MANAGER FOR ONE OF THE GREATEST EXPORTS TO COME OUT OF THE LOCAL PERFORMANCE MARKET, CHRISTCHURCH’S LINK ECU
NZPC: Hi Rob, please could you begin by giving us a brief introduction into Link ECU?
Rob: Kiwi firm Link Engine Management started 25 years ago as a few friends hanging out making their cars go faster and is now one of only five global brands in the engine-management sector. The Christchurch-based company specializes in the development, manufacture, and distribution of engine-management systems that can unleash the power of any engine. Link’s ECUs are renowned worldwide for being easy to use, reliable, high quality, and value for money.
So, it was a little self-taught backyard start-up. When did the guys decide to form a company and sell to the public?
Link became a business in 1991, when Philip Royds started to sell the engine-control units he and his mates had been building for themselves.
Tell us a little about the first ECU that was brought to market.
Initially, they were selling application-specific one-offs called ‘Link EMXs’, but, within a couple of years, they had designed and built the G1.
How many staff did the company employ in the early days?
Link started as a company of two people; one engineer; and one who did, well, everything else, and it was built into what we have today.
Comparing that original G1 Link with the latest and greatest G4+, how does it stack up power-wise?
It’s like comparing a VCR with Netflix.
When did Link go international and to what country first?
In the late ’90s, Link gained international attention by teaming up with New Zealand rally legend Possum Bourne to create the Possum Link. Possum’s winning performances helped grow Link’s business and reputation around the world, and, with that, demand for our products grew, especially in Australia, which became Link’s first export market.
How many distributors do you now have worldwide and in how many countries are you?
Link now has over 1000 distributors spread across 43 countries. Link’s largest markets are New Zealand, Europe (including the UK), South East Asia, Australia, the Middle East, the US, and Japan. In mid 2015, Link established a sales office in the UK in response to the growing opportunities in the mainland UK and Ireland. Link’s business has doubled over the last two years, and this looks [set] to continue as Link establishes more sales offices around the world.
Are the products still New Zealand built and developed?
Link is fiercely Kiwi, and, as such, the products are not only 100 per-cent developed and manufactured in New Zealand, but the majority of our suppliers are based here, too. We have a team of engineers in Christchurch who design and monitor our hardware, firmware, and software. We also have a team in Christchurch who does some assembly and packing, but most of that is done by our team in Auckland. In Christchurch, we also have a sales team, technical-support team, service team, and marketing team, as well as our finance and senior-management teams.
How has the engine-management market changed in the time Link has been trading?
ECUs are becoming more and more complex with the
introduction of multipoint injection, closed-loop wideband, VVT, complex CAN [controller-area-network] bus systems, and GDI, etc. ECUs are required to look after more and more functions. Once upon a time, all an ECU had to control was fuel and spark and maybe a fan, now they control a myriad of things, such as sensors that tell you when you have moved out of your lane or sensors that tell the engine to cut out when you have stopped at the lights. All this is creating more of a challenge for us, but we are Kiwis, we like a challenge.
Where does Link see the aftermarket ECU market moving in the next five years?
More and more sensors. Driverless cars are not that far away (Christchurch airport will be offering driverless buses very soon) and guess what drives the driverless cars? An ECU. Engine-wise, motors are moving to GDI, which delivers more power while using less fuel.
Which championships around the world can the product be found in?
WTAC [World Time Attack Challenge], D1NZ, Silver Fern Rally, IDC, BDC [British Drift Championship], Formula D[rift], Drift Allstars, ADGP [Australian Drifting Grand Prix] — pretty much any event globally with private racing teams will have Link ECUs in it. We have our roots in rallying and have been with drift since day one. We are also found heavily in drag, circuit racing, hill climb, time attack, speedway, and stock cars, and we are very heavily used in street cars. Look through all the cars in this magazine; I’d bet that 80 per cent of them are running Link ECUs.
To be honest, it’s probably closer to 90 per cent. What do you attribute this success to?
Link and the New Zealand car culture have grown up together. New Zealand’s performance cars have been as much a part of Link as we have been a part of the cars. That is why, no matter how big we get globally, it is important for us to always remember our roots and to continue to back the Kiwi car culture, whether that is through supporting big events like D1NZ and Leadfoot, or grassroots events like Flat Nats. When someone like Jaron Olivecrona stuffs a V12 into an S14, that is what we mean when we say “exhilaration starts here” — and our maverick side just has to be a part of that. We like to think that the New Zealand car culture trusts us, trusts that our products are easy to use, value for money, and reliable.
Who are some of the drivers and teams Link works with worldwide, and do you use any of these teams as test beds for new products?
Our dealer network is very deeply entrenched in local motorsport scenes, and we work very closely with them to provide what the market wants. The last three ECUs we released have been great examples of this. The Force GDI was built in conjunction with our Malaysian tuners, Kenneth Liang, Ricki Tong, and the Honda Malaysia Racing Team; the Kurofune with one of our Japanese dealers, Kenji Uchida; the Monsoon with one of our UK dealers, Robert Thornton. We also have a group of our dealers that we use as a test bed for new products. We know we can rely on these dealers to give our products a rigorous test in real-world applications.
Is there anyone currently running secret testing for you in real-world applications?
Now that would be telling.
When will we see a G5 ECU? Is that in the works?
Link G5 is under development, but we do not have a launch deadline yet. That is all I can say at the moment.
What sparked the change in logo this year?
Link changed from the black oval mid this year, after using the oval since its inception. The move was made to a logo that better represented who we are. The old logo was nice, but it was a bit serious and boring. Although we are serious about putting power and technology in the hands of our drivers and teams, and pushing the technology as far we can, we are not old, serious, and boring.
Mid this year, we had a conversation about who we are as a company and what we do. It was decided that we make things exhilarating. This has been the case since Link’s inception, when a few mates were tinkering with their engines and trying to make them go faster in what they called ‘the laboratory of speed’, where exhilaration was born. These guys were pioneers, they were mavericks, and our new logo was chosen to personify those speed-crazed geniuses.
Thanks for your time, Rob
Cheers, my pleasure.