Brose Fahrzeugteile lets EV market shake out

November 20, 2018 06:01 CET

When a German automaker solicited supplier bids this fall to provide electric traction motors for a major platform involving several battery-electric vehicles, one of Europe’s largest motor suppliers, Brose Fahrzeugteile, declined to bid.

It had good reason to stay on the sidelines: In the era of industry electrification, Brose is taking a different path — playing it conservative as the EV market develops and prioritizing business in its other product areas, including door hardware and advanced seating.

“I think there were as many as 30 suppliers that were in the bidding for this one platform,” Frank Lubischer, president of Brose North America, said of the motor program Brose took a pass on.

“The market for electric traction motors is one that is just coming,” Lubischer told Automotive News, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe. “We see electric platforms coming from every major OEM. The volumes are impressive, if you can believe what the OEMs have on their productions schedules.”

But Brose is not eager to slug it out for a share of the traction motor market right now, he said, speculating that some players will not succeed.

“There is a lot of competitive tension. I think about how many suppliers are trying to get in there. I’d say it is not clear yet how many are going to survive.”

Lubischer: “It’s a young market.”

New technologies

Privately held Brose manufactures about 200 million electric motors a year that are used by virtually every major global automaker. They mostly go into power windows; seats; tailgates; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; water pumps; and other vehicle operations.

Scaling up to produce bigger motors to drive an entire vehicle might look like the natural next step for the 99-year-old supplier. But Brose, with 2017 sales of about $7.09 billion, makes only one larger motor that provides slow-speed propulsion in a low-volume hybrid vehicle. The company is approaching the traction motor business with extreme caution — even though growth in that segment is expected to boom in the next decade. According to Bloomberg, sales of EVs will surge to 11 million globally in 2025 and grow to 30 million by 2030, compared with record sales of 1.1 million in 2017.

So for now, other technologies loom large for the supplier.

During a tour of the company’s North American technical center outside Detroit, engineers showed off two new technologies Brose is developing for future vehicles. One is a self-closing door system for autonomous vehicles, the other a reconfigurable interior that moves all four seats, steering wheel and center console in a choreographed, electric-motor-driven mechanical ballet. The system uses more than 50 electric motors.

‘Make a mark’

Brose will continue to develop the products that built it globally, including the parts inside doors and tailgates that operate windows, locks and other systems. The big push now, says Arnd Herwig, Brose North America vice president of development, is rolling out an inner-door module that contains a window regulator and lock apparatus in one integrated lightweight component that simply snaps onto the door frame. Another push is developing electro-mechanical components that replace tried-and-true hydraulic parts, such as oil and water pumps in the engine.

“We are a strong player in all the aggregate motors,” Lubischer said. “Pumps, climate compressors, cooling compressors, electric steering, electric braking; all the things requiring between 12 and 48 volts. It’s where we have the biggest chance to really make a mark in the industry.”

This doesn’t mean Brose never will be a major supplier of traction motors. Lubischer says Brose could form a joint venture with another supplier that has complementary technology.

“We are always looking into long-term growth opportunities,” he said. “We want to have some certainty and confidence in the market and in our opportunity to win.”

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

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