|I forget about this one so technically we have 4 plants or new productions lines.|
Webasto to add $15.2 million production line and 183 jobs in Lexington
by Susan Baniak
For sunroof manufacturer Webasto Roof Systems, Inc., which announced plans in August to invest $15.2 million in a new production line that will bring 183 additional jobs to its Lexington facilities, the sky’s no limit.
Webasto’s high-tech roof systems, including its expansive, windshield-to-rear panorama sunroof designs, have been chalking up accolades from industry experts worldwide in recent years. A host of automakers, including Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Fiat Chrysler and Ford, have lauded the supplier’s quality, design and value-adding innovation.
“Before the end of the year, we will launch three completely new sunroofs with two different customers. These launches will continue into next year with increased volumes,” said John Wilder, Webasto Roof Systems plant manager, in announcing the new investment. “Our technology is some of the best offered by any manufacturers anywhere in the world. These are truly exciting times for Webasto and our Kentucky family.”
Webasto’s planned $15.2 million investment in its Lexington facilities will support the diversified global company’s core business of manufacturing advanced sunroof systems and components.
Although the company declined to disclose specific details about the new products that will be coming off the line over the next two years in Fayette County, recent advances in sunroof technology have incorporated everything from solar power cells for alternative vehicles to electrochromic darkening technologies to regulate window tinting. And if the level of innovation is any indicator, customers in search of a more enjoyable driving experience are increasingly looking for it through the roof.
“There is an upward trend for panoramic sunroofs that is supporting the demand for more utility/crossover vehicles and trucks globally,” said Andre Schoenekaes, CEO and president of Webasto Roof Systems Americas. “The technology that we invest in Lexington will give us more flexibility to add multi-products in the future.”
The planned expansion comes as Webasto Roof Systems, a subsidiary of the Stockdorf, Germany-based Webasto Group, celebrates its 20th anniversary as part of the Lexington business community. The company opened its first manufacturing facility in Lexington as the inaugural tenant at the Blue Grass Business Park in 1998. Five years later, in 2003, it added a second 200,000-square-foot assembly plant on a nearby 18-acre site.
The company’s growth, both in North America and worldwide, has been strong and steady ever since, with global sales topping 3.5 billion euro in 2017. The largest share of those sales was generated by the company’s sunroofs and components business.
“The growth in Lexington is supporting our North American road map,” Schoenekaes said. “Webasto wants to achieve 5 billion euros of global sales in 2020—we are well on the way to achieving that goal.”
Webasto’s advanced roof systems have earned accolades from global industry experts, and automakers have lauded the company’s quality and innovation.
With a dual corporate strategy aimed at both strengthening its existing core businesses—namely sunroofs, convertibles and thermo systems—and delving into new business territory, including battery systems and charging systems for electric vehicles, Webasto sees more growth potential in North America, Schoenekaes said. The company recently acquired California-based AeroVironments Efficient Energy Systems for $35 million, further diversifying the company’s portfolio as it works to build its global presence in the electric vehicle charging business.
“This year also sees an exciting launch of a convertible top for the Jeep Wrangler,” Schoenekaes added. “So we continue to develop our sales in many new areas.”
Staying on top of evolving industry trends and sticking close to its customers geographically have been enduring elements of Webasto’s business model. As such, the company’s manufacturing footprint is key to its future success, Schoenekaes said. In terms of recent tariff proposals, Schoenekaes said that more than 80 percent of the company’s revenue in Lexington is supplied to customers within a 900-mile radius, and the localization rate of Webasto’s suppliers in the United States is about 80 percent.
“That means 20 percent of our components are imported and any tariff on that would still have a huge impact,” Schoenekaes said.
But the company’s history in Kentucky, its planned investment in further innovation and its longstanding reputation as a top supplier for the automotive industry both in the United States and abroad bode well for its future in the Bluegrass.
“Webasto is a respected employer in Fayette County and has been a top-quality supplier to automakers around the world over the past two decades,” said Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. “The company is indeed taking its business to the next level. This project is further evidence of Kentucky’s position as the center of engineering and manufacturing excellence in America. We are grateful to Webasto for their continued commitment to the Bluegrass State and our strong workforce.”
“Our 20-year journey in Lexington started with one small building and has evolved into over 500 employees and members of the Webasto family,” Schoenekaes said. “We are incredibly proud of our employees, products and customer relationships in Lexington.”