Leaning on History to Innovate for the Future: How Webasto Drew on its Global Industrialization Know-How to Break into the eMobility Space

Ramesh Natarajan, Engineering Manager of Batteries, Webasto Americas

Leaning on History to Innovate for the Future: How Webasto Drew on its Global Industrialization Know-How to Break into the eMobility SpaceRamesh Natarajan, Engineering Manager of Batteries, Webasto Americas

Webasto has been around for more than a century now. Ever since revolutionizing the retractable roof in automotive sector, Webasto has been world market leader in the panorama/sunroof and convertible sector. Rated one of the Top-100 automotive suppliers in the world, Webasto has a wide spectrum of products, including auxiliary heaters, parking heaters, cooling solutions, etc. The recent additions to this already multi-faceted portfolio include high-voltage automotive batteries, charging solutions and high-voltage heaters.

It is a massive leap from roofs, for sure, but Webasto is known for innovation and quality. With the automotive world shifting gears to eMobility, it is not a surprise that with more than 50 locations and 30 manufacturing plants around the world, Webasto is positioning itself for future market scope and customer needs. Known for its industrialization strength, Webasto produces around 9.7 million sunroofs every year. Yes, you read that right, 13 million! Every one of them has stringent quality checks to ensure smooth integration into a wide variety of vehicles. Automotive quality is something embedded into our heritage.

“Addressing the high-voltage battery market requires an understanding of market needs, deep knowledge of lithium cells and the processes required to industrialize and scale”

Still, sunroofs and high-voltage batteries are different, right? Yes, absolutely. But there are several synergies between the two business units. Starting with sunroof, which is a highly complicated product which requires electronics for precise driving, rigorous testing and mass-production, and reproducing the same quality over and over.

A convertible roof has more than 500 moving parts; heating and cooling products require deep understanding of thermal management in automotive sector. In simple terms, Webasto has been in the market of mechatronics with its existing products. Thanks to the existing in-house know-how, this enabled an efficient transition. Addressing the high-voltage battery market requires an understanding of market needs, deep knowledge of lithium cells and the processes required to industrialize and scale. Back in 2016, when Webasto announced its entry into eMobility space, it was big news, especially given the fact that Webasto is a market leader in its existing business units. However, in the last five years, Webasto has launched several successful battery programs, including:

• The Standard-CV battery, anoff-the-shelf standardbattery for commercial vehicles, which helps up-fitters electrify existing fleets with ease(in series production since 2020)

• A Vehicle Interface Box (VIB), a clever power distribution unit, which enables scaling the energy, voltage, and power of the Standard-CV (in series production since 2020)

• A completely automated prismatic cell-based module line (in series since 2021)

• A high-energy content battery for a renownGerman bus manufacturer MAN(in series production since 2020) 

• A fully automated high-volume passenger car battery, produced for HKMC in Korea, (series start 2022)

• A fully automated high-volume pass-car HEV battery,produced for a leading Asian manufacturer of hybrid SUVs (series start 2022)

With a few more programs in final negotiation phase, momentum is gaining. In less than half a decade, Webasto expanded from a market leader in sunroof and heating products to an important and reliablepartner in high-voltage battery business. 

The key to Webasto's success story, among many reasons, is industrialization. Mass production with automotive processes, traceability and Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) are a part of our DNA, which is reflected in industrializing complex products with efficient techniques. The production line in Schierling, Germany is so innovative that one could produce multiple battery packs in the same line. Currently, we are producing a prismatic-based and a pouch-cell-based battery pack in the same line. Mind you, these batteries are different in weight, voltage, length, software interface, testing requirements, etc. Such innovation comes from the drive to be sustainable. Sustainability is not just a buzzword in Webasto; the plant in Germany already has 750 kWh of our own battery systems saving solar energy, which powers the battery line 100 percent.

In terms of battery recycling, the construction of a battery storage unit with a capacity of 1 MWh is underway. This will be supplied by the company's photovoltaic system, which, at a later date, will also flexibly supply the electricity for production or charging points on-site. More than 500 second-life battery modules will be reused for the storage system.

Webasto has already entered the U.S. market with the Standard-CV battery systems and is expanding the product portfolio. The two-pillar strategy of individualized and standardized solutions helps to address a wide range of our customers’ needs.

Together with its battery systems, Webasto will also offer charging solutions. In addition tothe latest AC charging station, the Webasto Next facilitates intelligent and efficient electric vehicle charging in private and commercial environments at up to 22 kilowatts (kW), and offers further products for mobile charging.

 

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