„E-mobility is picking up speed“

Marco Kollmeier, Vice President of the Business Unit Electro-Mobility at BENTELER Automotive, talks about the impact of the Corona pandemic on e-mobility, strategic partnerships and how his department used the time spent in the home office.

During the Corona pandemic, many of our plants were temporarily shut down. How was the situation for you in the Electro-Mobility Business Unit?

As a development department, we were working counter-cyclically, so to speak. Despite the Corona pandemic, we intensified our cooperation with the Chinese car manufacturer Evergrande: we received an order to develop front and rear axle modules for mid-range electric vehicles. We also received numerous inquiries from the US. So we are currently very busy.

What does the work of a developer look like - is it feasible when working from home office?

An incredible amount of work can be done from home. Even if sometimes a physical meeting, a typical team meeting, is more efficient. Our colleagues from the CAD and CAE departments, i.e. design and simulation, are occasionally dealing with technical hurdles in the home office because they have to work with a high level of computing power. This sometimes overstrains the W-LAN networks and access points. So these colleagues have to go to the office at short notice for one or two tasks. But basically, working from home office works very well for us.

Was the switch to the home office difficult for you?

Since we mainly work on global projects, for example with colleagues and customers in China or America, we are already well trained in non-physical collaboration. Not all of our partners are based in Paderborn either. In the past three years we have developed strongly in digital communication. That helps us now.

How will Corona influence your Business Unit? Will e-mobility get a boost or will traditional car manufacturers prefer to use tried and tested systems such as combustion engines?

E-mobility will experience a boost. We can see this in the public discussion about economic support programs, where people are demanding to link them to new, CO2-saving technologies. In China, the grants for electric cars have been extended further, up to 2022. Initially, they were supposed to expire this year. And some major manufacturers are currently ramping up first their production of electric vehicles. This is also a sign.

In the field of e-mobility, BENTELER also focuses intensively on strategic partnerships. How are our partners doing during the pandemic?

Even in these challenging times, we have very good contact with our partners, whether it is Bosch, Pininfarina or Vibracoustic. They are exposed to the same influences as we are: we are all in this together. We jointly have used the time to strategically position ourselves for the time after Corona. The great thing is that we complement each other's expertise: together we are driving electromobility forward. If one partner has customer contact, he brings the other one along with him. That's a win-win situation for everyone involved. The partners work together with someone who knows the interfaces and with whom they have good chemistry. And the customer benefits because he gets the better product from this cooperation. 

Do you plan to expand the strategic partnerships?

We have also used the time for this - we are currently in talks with a battery manufacturer, for example. We have a clear picture of how we want to fill this ecosystem of partnerships. The idea is that at some point we will integrate all the components necessary to build a vehicle.

Do we then still need the traditional car manufacturers?

Yes, definitely. They are also our customers. Meanwhile the customer field is very heterogeneous. In addition to the traditional car manufacturers, we also have the new car manufacturers with sparkling names or sparkling origins. Some of them are already well-established, such as Tesla. We work together with many of these newcomers. And then there are global players who do not come from the automotive sector at all. Their motivation is to depict mobility in a completely new form. The vehicle is no longer in the focus, but the way of travelling. Our cooperation partner Sony, for example, concentrates on entertainment technology. I had the chance to test-drive a car like this - that's something completely different. I'd like to have a living room like that... [laughs].

Our customer Evergrande, on the other hand, originally comes from the construction industry: the group is China's largest real estate company. We offer the entire ecosystem for this customer. Unlike traditional car manufacturers, these suppliers still lack some detailed technical know-how. That is what we provide. So they benefit from our engineering competence and expertise in metal forming and processing. And from our comprehensive vehicle know-how along the entire value chain, from development to production and assembly.

Does this mean that you have a positive outlook for the future despite Corona?

Of course we are constantly monitoring the situation. And we can see that e-mobility is picking up speed. China is on the road to recovery. For the first time in months, sales in China are growing again. This positive trend is in line with what we hear from our colleagues in China, where all our plants are running well again: It’s going upwards.