Suppliers face delicate decisions with the EV transition

At CenterLine Ltd. — a Windsor-based supplier that, among other things, builds custom automated welding and assembly lines — the current roster of customers includes both legacy and EV manufacturers, said Larry Koscielski, vice-president of process and technology development.

The company, which has 800 of its 1,200 global employees in Windsor, is well-positioned for the future since it doesn’t rely on the ICE powertrain market and has a strong culture of innovation, said Koscielski. “We do very little with drivetrain,” he said. “The rest of the vehicle hasn’t changed much. Seats are still the seats.”

CenterLine also continues to “innovate around the changes” facing the sector, Koscielski said, noting that solutions are needed to reduce the weight of battery-laden vehicles.

“Light-weighting has been a thing for a long time, even before EVs,” he said. “But now you add a 600-pound battery, and you have to figure out how to take that weight out.”

Strategic planning at KB Components includes expansion to meet growing demand from its EV customers and finding new markets for its ICE plant, Ulrich said.

Rivian, for example, is expected to exceed sales forecasts this year and in 2023, and it will be adding a second shift at its Illinois plant, he said.

“We’re looking to double our square footage” in the Windsor area, Ulrich said, adding that the new location would house both plants under one roof. The expansion is expected to increase the total number of salaried and hourly employees to 416 from 316 by mid-2023, he said.

Ensuring the long-term future of its fuel-tank operation will require new customers, including those outside of automotive, Ulrich said. “That plant is well-positioned, at least, for the next five years,” he said. “[But] we need to reinvent it, and we discuss that every week in our strategic meetings. Between the two plants, we’re 99 per cent automotive-driven, … so, we’re looking at how do we diversify our product lineup into nonautomotive areas.”

As well, Ulrich wants to get a piece of the Detroit Three’s business as they overhaul their Canadian plants for EV production.

In late October, he said, KB Components initiated discussions with Stellantis, which plans to launch battery electric vehicles at its Windsor Assembly Plant, expected to be retooled next year. According to Ulrich, two EVs will be launched in 2024, although Stellantis would not confirm his assertion.

“We’re trying to open the door there and introduce ourselves, and the first call went very well,” Ulrich said.

“We’re in the early stages of courting.”

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