Webasto Chairman Holger Engelmann wants to turn the roofs and thermal management specialist into a battery systems expert in time to capitalize on the forthcoming wave of electric cars from global automakers. It's a bold move, but Engelmann believes that the family-owned German company, which had record sales of 3 billion euros in 2016, already has several skills needed to branch into a new sector. He spoke about this and more with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc.
Webasto has created a business unit called e-solutions and services to produce battery systems and charging stations. How much will this unit contribute to Webasto's goal of having 5 billion euros in sales by 2020?
It will not be that significant by then because we believe e-mobility will really take off after 2020 — probably around 2025. So this is an investment in orders that will come in the future. We need to get into the market because at one point — boom! — it will be big. A lot of our customers will launch their full electric cars between late 2018 and 2022. By that time, more and more charging solutions will be available, and I think this market will take off.
Do you plan to install charging stations directly or outsource that?
At the beginning, we will work with external partners. But longer term, we will use our global aftermarket organization and their partners.
What role will Webasto play in battery systems?
We're going to assemble the battery packs and deliver them to the customers so they can integrate them into the car. We expect this to be similar to our roof business, where we collaborate closely with our customers on how to make the systems fit best in each model. Since the shape of the battery will vary depending on the car, we expect to have in-depth discussions with our customers during this process.
Will it be a high-volume business?
We realize that a large number of battery packs will not come from us. We expect most automakers to do their high-volume models on their own, and we will not be competitors to our customers. We want to be complementary to them in the areas where they don't want to be and we can step in.