Metair says lead-acid battery will still have key role as EV revolution takes hold

Metair is ready for the anticipated revolution in the automotive industry, including the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs), hybrid vehicles and autonomous drive vehicles.

These vehicles still need lights, brakes and wiring harnesses, for example, said Metair MD Theo Loock at the announcement of the company’s financial results in Johannesburg last month.

He added that EVs may use lithium-ion batteries to power them, but they also used normal lead-acid batteries for their control systems.

“And that’s not going to change,” said Loock. “Our EV adaptibility is high. The plan is to EV-proof the business.”

The JSE-listed Metair is an international manufacturer, distributor and retailer of energy storage solutions and automotive components.

It owns or has a shareholding in battery production sites in Romania, Turkey, South Africa, China and Germany. A big focus of current battery production includes start-stop batteries. Components manufacturing is undertaken mainly in South Africa, and includes wiring harnesses, lighting, heat exchange products, plastic products and ride control products. Metair is not currently a producer of lithium- ion batteries as the main power source for EVs. However, the company already produces lithium-ion starter batteries in Turkey. The batteries Metair made were 12 V batteries used for control applications, and were not used as the vehicle’s main energy source, explained Loock.

Around 30% of Metair’s mining cap lamp production in South Africa was also lithium- ion batteries, he added. “We are like Tesla. We buy the cells. We are not into chemistry. We do battery management, packaging and we provide solutions.”

Loock said Metair would, over time, “and at the right time”, look to increase lithium-ion battery production and move into the production of lithium-ion batteries used as the main power source in EVs.

“This, however, would be tied to a specific contract and vehicle manufacturer. It will probably also be in alliance with a reputable global battery producer.”

Any further global expansion by the company in terms of geographic footprint would be to the East, noted Loock, and no longer the US.

The trend used to be that European and US emission legislation tracked each other closely. However, the emergence of Trumponomics had changed the US’s stance towards emissions, he said. “We have received several requests for technical assistance from India, Russia and China.”

Diesel First Casualty in SA Exports

Increasingly stringent emissions legislation in Europe might take the scalp of diesel vehicle exports from South Africa to Europe within the next ten years or so, predicted Loock.

South Africa exported around 196 000 vehicle into Europe in 2016. It is not clear how many of these are diesel derivatives.

The timeline for technology changes were fluid and would vary between different markets, commented Loock.

The Numbers

Metair reported a 1% gain in revenue for the six months ended June 30 to R4-billion, compared with the same period last year. Operating profit increased by 36% to R355-million.

The gains followed largely on the back of a recovery in the Automotive Components business, following the elimination of new-vehicle- model launch support costs and improvements in efficiencies.

“The group has delivered an excellent performance in an exciting and very dynamic environment,” said Loock. He added that the technology shift currently seen in the automotive market, including “the possible accelerated mass introduction of electric vehicles”, had led to a refinement of the group strategy, which was to produce 50-million batteries across five continents over five years.

The focus was now for the Energy Storage business to become the world leader in the supply of energy source products used in control and energy solutions across the full spectrum of mobility options and to nurture the Automotive Components business with participation in selected growth opportunities.

“We want to address the fear that we have a sunset technology in our business,” said Loock.

By: Irma Venter – Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor – Engineering News