Interview Ted Straten
From exhaust pipes to electrolyzers
The Dutch family business Bosal is on the eve of its 100th anniversary. Where it originally acquired fame as a manufacturer of products in the automotive industry (tow bars & exhaust systems), it has now turned its focus and changed its entire structure in order to continue to bring relevant and valuable products to the market in the future. Flevum spoke to Ted Straten, Vice President Technology, Strategy and New Business, about the background of the new strategy and new organization in which Powertrain, Chassis, Energy & Microgrids are the magic words.
The way up
Bosal traditionally had two main divisions, namely the towbars and exhausts. Before 2020 Bosal was still in heavy weather and they had sold the towbar division. At that time, the management was mainly focused on introducing operational excellence. In addition to diversifying products, Bosal focuses on diversifying the sectors in which it operates. The automotive sector, where they serve the Volkswagen Group, General Motors, Ford, Stellantis, Volvo and Geely, has expanded to include trucks (Mercedes, Scania, Ford) and off-road vehicles (AGCO, BRP, Polaris).
This diversification led to products with higher added value and more customers. Now that the company is operating financially healthy again, the following challenge presents itself: the changing market & the energy transition “after all, an electric car no longer needs an exhaust”. The board expects Bosal to need to change faster than ever before and that in most scenarios 50% of the company’s turnover will come from the new energy division by 2030.
Against this background, Bosal has made the choice to make the role of VP Technology, Strategy & New Business more important than ever and to have it performed by a Commercial Engineer who has worked in R&D and strategic sales for a long time. Ted Straten therefore calls the job he has been in for a year “the best job in the Netherlands”.
The Bosal family business
The Bos family is still closely involved with the company. Karel Bos, as CEO, is the linking pin between the family and the daily management. Because Ted wants to stay close to the origins of the company, and considers a long-term strategy important, Karel Bos is involved in operational and strategic issues. This is one of the aspects that defines the culture, which Ted describes as “venturous and active”.
The family business gives the day-to-day management the space to seize opportunities and to change course. Ted is convinced that investing in a new sector is essential for Bosal’s growth. “Because we expect that 50% of turnover will have to come from the energy sector by 2030, the strategy is to fully invest in that.”
Energy as a new business
Although current exhaust systems are already well thought out, Bosal continues to innovate to make them quieter and reduce emissions. Bosal, for example, makes systems for hybrid vehicles that offer weight savings of 30% to 40% over conventional exhausts, without compromising durability. The turnover of the conventional powertrain components makes it possible to also work on the new powertrain for electric vehicles.
For fully electric vehicles, Bosal even has technology that increases the range of a car, while reducing the cost and size of the batteries by 40% to 60% and reducing the CO2 impact.
As a new product in the powertrain sector, they make parts for fuel cells for vehicles that generate their own electricity using hydrogen. This way of driving can be done without exhaust emissions, making major steps in the sustainability transition possible worldwide.
The micro grids
Bosal expects energy production to become increasingly localized because large national grids waste a lot of green energy. That is why they are focusing on microgrids, which are integrated and hybrid systems for generating sustainable energy, independent of national electricity networks and perfect for remote areas. “It is important to convert sustainably generated electrical energy into synthetic fuel for storage, which can be used with the highest possible efficiency,” explains Ted.
A realistic form of collaboration
When starting the new energy sector, Bosal entered into partnerships to work out issues together on the one hand and to maintain close contact with stakeholders on the other to find out what the challenges in the chain are. “The most important thing for us is that our products are ultimately usable for the end users.” To illustrate the collaboration, Ted mentions the consortium that was recently set up on the initiative of Bosal. This Dutch group of companies aims to develop and standardize compact and affordable fuel cells so that they can be usefully applied in various sectors.
Bosal argues for a realistic approach to the energy transition towards its cooperation partners, but also towards other companies and government bodies. Sustainability initiatives should not be a gamble and should be reasonably feasible. For example, the idea of having all vehicles drive fully electrically in the short term is unrealistic. Bosal is happy to take on the challenge of showing what is possible when it comes to sustainability. E-Fuels such as hydrogen are also needed to store and use energy in vehicles that cannot run on batteries alone. For example, Bosal focuses on achieving the highest possible yield from hydrogen production by using residual heat from industry.
All facing the same direction
Another challenge is to get everyone in the international company on the same page. The corona crisis once again showed the importance of physical presence. “With 2500 employees worldwide, we are a relatively small company, which makes it possible to visit our people regularly and to propagate the strategy in this way.”
The bi-annual Bosal conference works well for Bosal to coordinate with each other. 150 people will then meet physically to discuss the status of the company and the new innovations. There are also active workshops from which the executive board gets a lot of input for new strategies. “The great thing is that the participants broadly share their experiences with colleagues in the relevant countries, so that they also become involved in the head office,” says Ted.
“Sometimes optimizations are easier than we think.” For example, these conferences greatly helped Bosal to physically transform the factories. “Grey and dusty factories don’t fit the green energy sector”, Ted points out, “since the factories were refreshed, we have measured results of more productive and happier employees.”
Hope for the future
Ted says that the purpose of the Bos family has always been to help create a cleaner world. Fortunately, Bosal is down to earth enough to know that it cannot be done alone. Yet there is a great sense of corporate social responsibility. With all the technical opportunities, Bosal is convinced that they can capitalize on creating environmentally friendly technology.
This attitude has always driven the strategy. For example, the company is always looking for ways to make emissions cleaner and vehicles quieter. Ted feels a great responsibility towards the regions where Bosal has factories. The management makes it its personal mission to make the technology we have in the West available in other regions as well.
Directors are always welcome to call Bosal with questions regarding restructuring and transformation within a company. Interesting questions are, for example: what if I end up in a bad situation with the bank? Or, what if my sales team no longer performs? Or, how do you deal with innovations?