Webasto sees power unit as hot product for vehicles, homes

Stockdorf. Roof system and auxiliary heating specialist Webasto AG introduced a global innovation at the Frankfurt auto show while still protecting it from the prying eyes of its competitors.

The auxiliary power unit is a compact fuel cell, which can replace a vehicle's battery and alternator.

According to company plans, it is supposed to completely take over electric current production and heating within a vehicle. The 30-kilogram (66-pound) device also heats buses, motor homes and single-family houses, Webasto said.

The unique aspect of the unit is that it is powered with conventional fuel, not hydrogen, and can be connected directly to an existing tank.

For Webasto, the power unit represents an entry into new markets, all the way to private households. One liter of fuel, or about 1.1 quart, is supposed to be enough to heat an average three-room apartment for an hour.

Now that prototypes have show promise, Webasto plans to test the power unit in commercial vehicles beginning in 2006. The supplier believes that trucks will be the first market for the innovation.