Dr. Holger Engelmann

Dr. Holger Engelmann

Webasto's core competencies include the development, production and sales of sunroofs, panoramic roofs, convertible roofs and parking heaters. With electric heating systems, charging solutions and battery systems, the supplier is also addressing the growth market of electromobility. Continuing just-auto/QUBE's series of interviews with tier one suppliers, we spoke to Dr Holger Engelmann, Chairman of the Management Board, Webasto SE about the company's roof systems business.

Given the increasing size of sunroofs across vehicle segments, there will always be a requirement to reduce the weight of panoramic roofs. What do you see happening there and how is Webasto addressing this?

Polycarbonate can reduce the weight of a sunroof by up to 40 per cent compared to a standard glass sunroof.

For years we have been working intensively on innovative lightweight solutions to reduce the weight of roof systems. For this, we use polycarbonate, polyurethane composites and Webasto Glas ProTec®. With these technologies, we can reduce the weight of a sunroof up to 40 per cent compared to a standard glass sunroof. We will further develop these technologies and we also see a need for new innovative features like ambient lighting and switchable glazing, we offer.

Solar technology in cars seems to be another way besides weight reduction to promote the image of ecological awareness and could be a trend for future sunroof development. What's your view?

Webasto has been supplying solar roofs for series production vehicles since 1989, hence we are pioneers in this segment. Since 2013, our solar roof is also listed as a so-called Eco Innovation by the European Union as it can help to reach the fleet's CO2 targets. The electrical energy that is produced by the solar cells can be used by all auxiliary and main consumers like the air conditioning or charging the battery. Over the last years, we don't see increasing customer requirements in this segment.

We understand that Webasto is investing some EUR2.5m (US$2.94m) in the expansion of your Mexican plant for convertible roofs in Puebla. Which car models do you supply and what is demand like for convertible roofs in North America?

Our Mexican plant is an important textile competence centre for the convertible business unit of the Webasto Group. At Puebla, we are currently manufacturing the soft top for the VW Beetle and the aftermarket roof for the Jeep ThrowBack, as well as all textile components for the North-American market. New projects will follow.

Could you give us some idea of the pace of growth of the retractable hardtop market in North America and Europe?

The convertible market has shrunk.

The convertible market, in general, has shrunken within the last years and now remains at a rather low level. But convertibles are and will remain an integral part of OEMs' product portfolio. We will see new models, especially in the luxury and the sports car segment, with soft tops as well as retractable hardtop.

Last year, Webasto opened a roof systems facility in Baoding, Hebei province of China. Who are your customers for roofs in China?

We have about 40 customers in China – local automobile manufacturers as well as joint ventures. Our customers include Great Wall, Changan, FCC, Chery, Geely and VW, Hyundai / Kia, General Motors, Renault Nissan, Fiat. The Chinese market is a strong growing market for roof systems and thereof an important market for Webasto. In 2017 we generated more than EUR1 billion sales in China, a third of our overall group sales.

How is the Chinese roof market shaping up for Webasto, specifically for panoramic roofs?

Webasto went to China in 2001 and our development in the roof market over the years was very positive. Meanwhile, we have ten plants there and are planning our eleventh one in Jiaxing. We benefit from the dynamical automotive market and the high fitment rate in China and big panorama roofs are very popular there. Furthermore, we expect to sell more than every second of our High-voltage heaters in China 2018 and we will build up an HVH production in Wuhan in 2019. And we see a big potential for our new battery and charging business in China as well.

We understand that Webasto's folding roof developed for the Range Rover Evoque is one of the quietest convertible tops on the market and also the world's largest soft top without a tension bow.  Generally speaking, how do you see the further development of convertible roof designs?

The soft top that Webasto designed for the Range Rover Evoque is the world's first SUV convertible in the luxury compact class. In order to create such roofs, we continuously develop our convertible roof systems according to the requirements of the global market, customers and the automotive industry. The further developments are driven by new technologies and trends. Currently, we are developing new roof concepts for hybrid and electric convertibles.

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