WOKING, England, Jan 23 (Reuters) – The global auto industry has committed $1.2 trillion to developing electric vehicles (EVs), providing a golden opportunity for new suppliers to win contracts for everything from battery packs to motors and inverters .
Startups that specialize in batteries and coatings to protect EV parts, and suppliers that have traditionally focused on niche motorsports or Formula One (F1[ads1]) racing, have been chasing EV contracts. Automakers design platforms to last a decade, so high-volume models can generate big revenue for years.
The next generation of electric cars is due to arrive around 2025, and many automakers have sought help to plug gaps in their expertise, providing a window of opportunity for new suppliers.
“We’ve gone back to the days of Henry Ford, where everyone is asking ‘how do you make these things work?’,” says Nick Fry, chief executive of F1 engineering and technology firm McLaren Applied.
“It’s a huge opportunity for companies like us.”
Bought from McLaren by private equity firm Greybull Capital in 2021, McLaren Applied has adapted an efficient inverter developed for F1 racing for electric cars. An inverter helps control the flow of electricity to and from the battery pack.
The silicon carbide IPG5 converter weighs just 5.5 kg (12 lb) and can extend an electric car’s range by over 7%. Fry says McLaren Applied is working with around 20 car manufacturers and suppliers, and the converter will appear in high-volume luxury EV models starting in January 2025.
Mass-market automakers often prefer to develop EV components in-house and own the technology themselves. After years of pandemic-related parts shortages, they are wary of over-reliance on suppliers.
“We just can’t afford to depend on third parties to make these investments for us,” said Tim Slatter, head of Ford (UN) UK.
Traditional suppliers, such as German heavyweights Bosch and Continental ( CONG.DE ), are also investing heavily in electric cars and other technology to stay ahead in a fast-changing industry.
But smaller companies say there are still opportunities, especially with low-volume manufacturers that can’t afford big EV investments, or high-performance luxury automakers seeking an edge.
Croatia’s Rimac, an electric hypercar maker part-owned by Germany’s Porsche AG ( P911_p.DE ) that also supplies battery systems and powertrain components to other automakers, says an undisclosed German automaker will use a Rimac battery system in a high-performance model – with annual production of about 40,000 units – starting this year, with more registered.
“We have to be 20%, 30% better than what they can do, and then they work with us,” says CEO Mate Rimac. “If they can make a 100-kilowatt-hour battery pack, we have to make a 130-kilowatt pack in the same dimensions for the same cost.”
NO TIME TO LOSE
Some suppliers such as Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Actnano have had long relationships with EV pioneer Tesla ( TSLA.O ). Actnano has developed a coating that protects electric car parts from condensation, and its business has spread to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as well as other automakers including Volvo ( VOLCARb.ST ), Ford, BMW ( BMWG.DE ) and Porsche.
California-based startup Cellink has developed a fully automated, flat and easy-to-install “flex harness,” instead of a wiring harness, to group and route cables in a vehicle. CEO Kevin Coakley would not identify customers, but said Cellink’s harnesses had been installed in about a million electric cars. Only Tesla has that scale.
Coakley said Cellink was working with US and European automakers, and with a European battery maker on battery wiring.
Others are focused on low-volume manufacturers, such as British startup Ionetic, which develops battery packs that would be too expensive for smaller companies to make themselves.
“At the moment it just costs too much to electrify, which is why some manufacturers are delaying their electrification launch,” CEO James Eaton said.
Since 1971, Swindon Powertrain has developed powerful motorsport engines. But it has now also developed battery packs, electric powertrains, e-axles and is working with around 20 customers, including carmakers and an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft manufacturer.
“I realized that if we don’t embrace this, we’re going to end up working for museums,” said CEO Raphael Caille.
But time may be running out.
Mate Rimac says that major car manufacturers have tried to roll out electric cars over the past three years, and that they now mostly have strategies in place.
“For those who have not signed projects, I am not sure how long the window of opportunity will remain open,” he said.
($1 = 0.8226 pounds)
Reporting by Nick Carey Editing by Mark Potter
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