“We see ourselves as solution providers for e-mobility concepts”

Salzburg/Paderborn, April 16, 2021. About the same age and always in tune with the times – BENTELER and the trade magazine "Industrieanzeiger". In the current issue, Stefan Melchior, Head of Corporate Strategy and Corporate Development at BENTELER, talks about the transformation of the automotive industry and why BENTELER will in future remain a strong partner for the industry.

Dr. Melchior, does the transformation of the automotive industry mean that BENTELER has to become even more focused?

We are already are. Since 2018, we have been focusing on a comprehensive transformation program to prepare the BENTELER Group for the future in a challenging time. We have adapted our strategy, which focuses on our core business as a metal processing specialist with a focus on the automotive sector, and optimized classic efficiency and effectiveness building blocks such as purchasing, sales, production as well as portfolio measures and cost discipline for this purpose. Successfully, too. In 2020 we proved ourselves to be a system-relevant partner to the automotive industry. Non-industry financing partners and external appraisers assess our strategy positively.

What are your topics for the future?

Topics such as safety, lightweight construction and e-mobility. When it comes to sustainability, we see ourselves as globally positioned. With around 100 sites and plants worldwide, we produce close to our customers and thus reduce the carbon footprint of the supply chain. With recycled steel production in Lingen and aluminum production using hydroelectric power in Norway, we are setting trends in production processes within the Group.

To what extent will the portfolio be streamlined and what will BENTELER say goodbye to in the medium term?

As part of the focus on our core business, we have already divested our Distribution division in 2019. As a result, revenues from the automotive business now account for around 90% of total sales. We are concentrating on our core competence, metal processing, and at the same time, as an automotive supplier, we have recognized the specific demand in the area of e-mobility and want to serve it. For example, in 2017 we presented the prototype of our Rolling Chassis, a modular and scalable platform for e-vehicles. In 2019, in cooperation with Bosch, we presented a version that is ready for series development and production - including Bosch electronics components for functional integration.

How much are you investing in electromobility?

We addressed the issue of e-mobility at an early stage. 85% of our products are drive-independent and use open technologies. We therefore see e-mobility as an absolute opportunity for us to make optimum use of our products and expertise. We are also implementing targeted projects in this area in 2021. At our plant in Schwandorf, Germany, for example, we will produce battery trays for a second major customer. We believe that we are well positioned for the overall transformation: On the one hand, with the rolling chassis we have a technology platform that can be used immediately and on which new models can be brought to market more efficiently and faster. The target group is not so much established automotive groups, but rather new market players such as start-ups from outside the industry or manufacturers known for consumer electronics. We see ourselves as a solution provider that works with its customers to bring e-mobility concepts to the road. On the other hand, we offer individual assemblies and modules from the platform in collaboration with our traditional customers. For most of our products, such as B-pillars or axle components, it is not crucial whether they are installed in an electric vehicle or not: As I said, 85% of our components can be used regardless of the type of drive – whether combustion engine, e-car, hybrid or hydrogen powered.

What technological deficit does BENTELER still need to make up?

As a process specialist, we accompany customers from the product idea to series production. We ensure the production capability of our product idea within the development phase, tailored to the wishes of our customers. With the current version of the Rolling Chassis, we are setting a benchmark in electric vehicle platforms for segments D to F. It’s a ready-to-run, modular platform that covers many functions of a full-fledged vehicle with all-wheel drive, 300 kilowatts of power and a range of more than 400 kilometers. Most recently, we optimized the platform with our partner Bosch under real test conditions at the Boxberg test center. The results confirm the engineering data from virtual development. In the meantime, however, the market is also showing strong demand for platforms in the smaller B and C segments and for platforms specifically for people movers. We are therefore also working on concepts for these segments. The focus here is on cost efficiency and robust design, taking into account experience from the earlier platform development process.

Will you enter into partnerships, perhaps also with competitors, to achieve system-critical size in the e-mobility business?

We are already doing that in order to bundle competencies. I have already mentioned Bosch several times. In addition, we’ve joined forces with Vibracoustic to develop noise- and vibration-optimized chassis solutions for electric vehicles. We’ve entered into a strategic partnership with the design and body construction company Pininfarina, which enables us to build prototypes as well as the complete development process of an electric vehicle up to the start of production. For the implementation of the rolling chassis, we are cooperating with Evergrande, which was not known as an automotive manufacturer before now. The Chinese company is using our system as the basis for the chassis architecture of future electric vehicles. Likewise, Sony presented a vehicle at CES 2020 for which we are supplying key components. Basically, we are positioned for the entire spectrum of possible applications: From lightweight and environmentally friendly transport vehicles for the "last mile" in delivery services to new concepts for public transport such as partially and fully autonomous driving and barrier-free people movers. In the last category, we are already involved in various development projects.

The interview was published in German in the print edition 07/2021 of “Industrieanzeiger” and online at: https://industrieanzeiger.industrie.de/management/wir-sehen-uns-als-loesungsmacher-fuer-e-mobilitaet-konzepte

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