VB Autonatterie is driven to succeed
VB Autobatterie, Varta Automotive’s European battery division, is a major European battery manufacturer offering high-quality, cuttingedge technology and comprehensive battery expertise.
Since 2002, the division has been part of the global market leader Johnson Controls, a company with a key position in the international distribution of automotive batteries.
Johnson Controls manufactures and distributes more than 110 million batteries each year for many of the world’s biggest battery brands including Optima, LTH, Heliar and Varta. It is the world’s largest producer of power-storage devices for passenger vehicles and other applications and also provides systems engineering, service expertise, and batteries for hybrid-electric vehicles. Founded in 1885, Johnson Controls is a multi-national company with 136,000 employees, serving customers in 125 countries. In the automotive market, it is a major supplier of seating, interior systems and batteries, as well as building control systems and services, energy management and integrated facility management.
In 2002, the US-based Johnson Controls announced an agreement with Varta AG, the largest manufacturer of car batteries in Europe and a brand renowned for high-quality product and process technology to acquire 80 per cent of Varta’s Automotive Battery Division. The development allowed Johnson Controls, already the biggest auto battery supplier in North and Latin America, to gain a market leadership position in Europe. The Varta Automotive Battery Division consists of Varta Automotive GmbH and the 80 per cent majority stake of Varta AG in VB Autobatterie GmbH, and a 20 per cent stake of Robert Bosch GmbH in VB Autobatterie GmbH.
As part of Varta’s Automotive Battery Division, VB Autobatterie is headquartered in Hannover and operates six battery assembly plants in Europe located in Germany, Czech Republic, France, and Spain. It organises European distribution and manufactures automotive batteries for customers such as BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and Volkswagen, as well as supplying European independent after-market customers such as Robert Bosch GmbH, hypermarkets, and wholesalers.
VB Autobatterie’s operations VP Jorge Gonzalez says: “Some of our key customers are in the aftermarket sector, which is widespread in Europe. With regards to original equipment, we supply major brands such as VW and BMW. Our customers are very demanding which forces us to improve every year, and the concept of quality is a key factor. Quality of the product must be unquestionable, which is one of our key drives.”
The company’s R&D efforts include the development of batteries for emerging higherenergy and longer-life automotive applications such as dual battery systems, 42-volt electrical systems and battery solutions for hybrid vehicles. The company has programmes underway focusing on lead-acid AGM as well as nickel metal hydride and lithium-ion battery systems. “Innovation and R&D are really important because of our desire to exceed our customers’ expectations and we continuously strive for ways to improve,” says Jorge.
The collaboration of Johnson Controls and Varta created a leading global player in the battery industry and secured the long-term success of both companies, each bringing complementary geographical coverage and similar corporate cultures. The two companies had previously been partners, since 1997, in a South American battery joint venture and in fulfilling Ford Motor Company’s original equipment needs in Europe.
The company’s aim to improve consistently has been aided by the implementation of efficiency programmes. “In recent years we have improved productivity using the initiatives Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and best business practices,” explains Jorge. “We are trying to improve efficiency in manufacturing throughout each plant and work closely with customers, especially regarding hybrid technology. We work together to innovate and develop initiatives further, which is really important because our main aim is to exceed our customers’ expectations.”
VB Autobatterie is growing each year in terms of turnover without increasing its workforce. Jorge believes the keys to its continuous success are its lean manufacturing and Six Sigma initiatives, and investing year-on-year in production to improve its capabilities: “Six Sigma has been a very good option for us for many years. We have found opportunities that allow us to use the correct solutions to problems in our process. One other very important ongoing development is the application of best business practices. We have worldwide facilities and if, for instance, a plant in Spain is performing very well in a specific way, we can share its methods to help us improve at other facilities. By adapting in this way we are applying the best business practices in different locations and trying to improve as quickly as possible. Lean manufacturing has been utilised in the industry for over 20 years but I think this is one initiative that never ends. It has been very important for us in improving change-overs and plant layout. We base our improvements for future growth upon our lean initiative though investment in production facilities is also vital. We are continuously investing in the technology necessary for improving manufacturing and I don’t think you can ever stop investment because that would be the beginning of the end.”
The auto-battery market is currently very strong and Jorge believes growth is set to continue: “I think that the market will generally remain consistently strong but there will be some steady growth. The main way in which we can succeed is to compete on quality and service, and it is on this basis that we can expect to grow. Our key strength is the excellent service we provide and this makes a particular difference in the after-market.”
Continuing, he concludes: “I think our number one challenge is to promote continuous improvement in new ways and to focus even more on customer service and developing customer intimacy. We want to measure customer satisfaction by finding out what customers value and take the time to connect their expectations with our services. Over the next ten years, we will continue to consider all improvement initiatives and align everything we implement across marketing, manufacturing and R&D in order to focus on customers, their satisfaction and their perception of value because customer satisfaction is our number one priority.”
Products: Vehicle batteries
Sites: Germany, Spain, France and Czech Republic