STOCKDORF, Germany - With growth in its core sunroof business declining in Europe, Webasto AG is focusing on complete roof modules and other new products.
Webasto is in discussions with customers about modules, though no contracts have been signed, according to Wolfgang Thurow, head of the company's roof systems business. Initially, small-volume cars would be targeted, he said.
Webasto, which is based near Munich, is also looking for a partner with complementary skills outside its roof mechanical systems know-how.
A complete roof module would include metal roof, headliner, handles and lamps, and would be assembled off-line. It would reduce costs and give more styling freedom, said Thurow.
Webasto says it has about 50 percent of the global automotive sunroof market. It expects continued growth in the USA and Japan.
Sunroof installation rates in the USA grew from 18.6 percent of car sales in 1997 to 21.7 percent in 1998, according to Webasto. Growth could accelerate further if the company can create product concepts for pickups and sports-utilities, said Thurow.
Sunroof installation also grew in Japan, and Webasto sees growth potential in other Asian markets and in South America. But installation rates in Europe have fallen sharply over the past few years.
At Mercedes-Benz, one of Webasto's biggest customers, the installation rate was over 75 percent a few years ago. It is just 50 percent today.
'The competition for sunroofs is not just air conditioning, it is all the other options that you are able to buy,' said Thurow. 'A navigation system is also a competitor.'
Webasto is also interested in other roof systems and products based on its know-how with moving surfaces. In addition to spoilers, this could include extending aerodynamic aids.
In the longer term, Thurow sees opportunities for retractable hard-tops, which he called 'a new approach to the cabrio business.'
A retractable hard-top can be partly opened to offer a sunroof effect, or fully retracted, said Thurow. He said it can be made to take up less space than a conventional cabrio soft-top.
Thurow expects to see a car with a retractable hard-top on the market by 2002. He said that the new concept could extend the potential global market for open-top cars from 450,000 units a year to about 600,000 by 2005.