Global technology provider SKF, headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden, is seeing increasing demand for its bearings from China, where demand for electric cars means it is winning at least one new contract a month as suppliers adapt to changing automobile technology, reports Reuters.
Bernd Stephan, head of SKF Automotive, stated that while electric car sales were also rising in Europe, China was surging. “We have a huge gain of new business in this area … There are so many projects popping up, and we are in a permanent discussion with these customers,” he commented.
Electric cars are having a large impact on bearings manufacturers as they typically contain about half as many as a combustion engine car. While SKF is focused on parts such as bearings and seals, rivals including Germany’s Schaeffler are developing full electric drivelines. However, due to the fact that only 4% of its products go into combustion engines and wheel bearings are its biggest product, SKF stated that it has largely been shielded from this negative impact.
The automotive bearings market is intensely competitive and price sensitive and the rise of Chinese rivals has added to concerns over long-term profitability. However, Stephan stated that he saw no reason why SKF should not be able to handle its Chinese rivals, saying it could use cheaper steel and different components to bring down manufacturing costs for bearings which were not top end products. “Why should we be less competitive than they are? We have the same production as they do, we are not producing bearings only in Europe,” he stated.
Looking ahead to the prospect of fully self-driving cars, Stephan told Reuters that this would bring further changes, with wheel bearings likely to require longer lifetimes due to more intensive usage. “People aren’t aware of what it means if we go to autonomous driving. In theory you can reduce your fleet to one third,” he said, adding that it was important to prepare for this.