Webasto's decision to expand North American capacity is paying off. US carmakers have started using the German supplier's innovative roofing systems - especially on niche vehicles.
Stockdorf-based Webasto developed the UltraView panoramic glass sunroof on the 2004 Cadillac SRX sport wagon.
The sunroof is a key feature of the vehicle. When fully retracted, UltraView provides nearly half a square meter of open space over the first- and second-row passengers. Third-row passengers have a vented glass panel that adds even more space.
"This is a big step forward because it is the first time a North American manufacturer has shown a panoramic sunroof on a series car," said Webasto Chairman Franz-Josef Kortüm. "Others will follow."
Webasto's North American sales were $300 million (E280 million) last year. Kortüm expects that to grow to $500 million to $600 million by 2008.
Cadillac began work on the SRX program three years ago. After a concept competition, Webasto was selected early in the program to develop the new roof.
In Europe, Webasto has a wide range of roofing systems experience. For example, it supplies the large, modular glass roof on the Mercedes-Benz C-class Coupe and the panoramic glass roof on the long-wheelbase Maybach 62.
Webasto continues to develop its roofing systems expertise, so Cadillac was able to choose from a portfolio of panoramic sunroof products, said Kortüm.
"This type of German engineering is being well received by US carmakers," he said. "As a result, we have invested heavily in North America over the last few years."
In 2000, Webasto acquired complete control of its US sunroof joint venture with Magna, Webasto Sunroofs Inc. A year later, Webasto opened a new North American technical center in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Then, in March 2002, Webasto began construction of a new, $28 million, 64,000-square-meter facility in Lexington, Kentucky.
The facility will add new technologies for Webasto in North America, such as glass encapsulation and the ability to produce more complex roof systems and sophisticated convertible roofs.
The company already has new business for the plant, said Kortüm, including sunroof contracts for Honda, Subaru and Nissan.
Webasto also wants to expand its auxiliary heater business in North America.
In November, Webasto broke ground on a new Aftermarket Competence Center in Fenton, Michigan, which will work on both thermal and roof products.
Kortüm sees an opportunity to build US sales of auxiliary heaters to a level comparable with Europe's over the next five to six years. Auxiliary heaters run independently from the engine and can, for example, provide heat immediately on a cold morning. But in the USA, Kortüm believes auxiliary heaters will mainly appeal to truck drivers accustomed to idling their diesel engines during meals and overnight stops to keep their cabs warm.
"We had a very good response at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association aftermarket show in Las Vegas in November," said Kortüm. "It is looking quite promising."
Kortüm expects success in the aftermarket to lead to original-equipment contracts.