Webasto looks to power hot electric vehicle market

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To most North American truckers, the Webasto brand is synonymous with fuel-fired bunk heaters and coolant heaters. Those aware of the broader business might be inclined to mention automotive sunroofs. But the company is also looking to apply its expertise to electric vehicles.

You can already see the working pieces powering pre-production models of Zeus work trucks, in the form of 35-kWh battery packs tucked within the frame rails.

“Each pack has its own battery management system. So it’s monitoring voltage. It’s monitoring current state of health and the state of charge,” says Taylor Hansen, president and CEO of Webasto Thermo and Comfort – North America.

Webasto commercial vehicle battery array
Webasto points to the flexibility of its commercial vehicle batteries, providing several mounting options. (Illustration: Webasto)

Measuring about 38 x 27 x 12 inches each, the scalable battery system also offers more mounting options for commercial vehicle manufacturers that opt for the power sources. Integrated pumps further support the plug-and-play design.

“You can move them around. You can stack them several high or you can spread them across the length of the truck,” Hansen explains. “If they’re looking for something standard, where the tooling and engineering is already done, then this is a good solution.”

They’ve even been used in trailer applications, mounted under vehicles to power electric refrigeration systems.

The company’s expertise in heating and cooling comes into play as well, courtesy of an available thermal management unit. Its heating comes into play in cold ambient conditions, and the cooling keeps things under control as temperatures climb. But the unit also preconditions batteries during charging, and dynamically adjusts temperatures while driving.

They’re factors that help to support promised 3,000-cycle lifespans.

Webasto’s foray into electric vehicles began in 2010, with a high-voltage heater for mild hybrid and fully electric vehicles. It’s in the Chrysler Pacifica today. The batteries followed in 2018, the same time that Webasto bought a charging business from AeroVironment – a business also knowns for producing Switchblade drones.

Altogether, Taylor says the offerings can help an electric vehicle manufacturer get to market quickly.

“We’ve done all the tooling, all the integration, all the software, everything safety-tested, vibration-tested,” she says. “If you’re trying to get a project off the ground quickly, I think that’s the big value-adds.”