In conversation with Stefan Geiger, Head of International Sales & Marketing for the Special Markets Business Unit at Eberspächer, on increasing comfort, connectivity and self-sufficiency in the motorhome.
Words Giorgio Carpi
The Eberspächer Group is one of the world’s leading system developers and suppliers for the automotive industry. Besides its exhaust technology, air conditioning and automotive electronics, most customers know Eberspächer for its Diesel heaters. What many don’t know is that Eberspächer’s Climate Control Systems Division also offers products and solutions for complete thermal management in the vehicle. By acquiring the French vehicle climate control specialist Kalori, the Group based in Esslingen, Germany is expanding its knowledge in this field and moving forward on its path to becoming a leading global supplier for thermal management solutions for special vehicles. The French company develops and produces air-conditioning and ventilation systems for commercial and special vehicles. We talked to Stefan Geiger about the importance of the RV segment, as well as the latest industry trends.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Strategically speaking, how important is the RV market to Eberspächer?
Stefan Geiger: I have to start off by mentioning that we have a very broad spectrum of products that we offer for passenger cars, buses and coaches, special vehicles, and even construction, agricultural and forestry machinery. Since the RV market is one of our global focus market segments, it is very important to us. We want to further broaden our expertise in this area, while expanding our product portfolio.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You acquired the French company Kalori last year, and will start selling thermal management solutions of the Eberspächer Kalori brand this summer. What can customers look forward to?
Stefan Geiger: Eberspächer was already selling climate control products through its Special Markets Business Unit before it bought Kalori. But by acquiring Kalori, we are broadening our expertise and expanding our product portfolio. We would like to use this expertise and increase our focus on combined thermal management systems, i.e. creating just a single system from separate heating and cooling solutions. We are moving with the times: away from individual solutions and towards system solutions.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Can you tell us how big you think the growth opportunities are in the international RV industry?
Stefan Geiger: Until now, in the RV industry, Eberspächer has mainly focused on selling heating products in Europe and Asia. And the market is still growing. We have identified huge potential for further growth, especially in Japan, China and North America. In the North American market, we are currently seeing growth in the “Class B segment.” Since in this field we can draw our comprehensive expertise from Europe, we definitely view it as an opportunity to use our “home advantage.” Here, we continue to see extensive and important market potential in the long-term, driven forward by camping vans, used as autonomous vehicles for adventurers, as well as by vehicles for comfort-oriented customers.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How have you built up your corporate structure to meet global requirements?
Stefan Geiger: We have subsidiaries and general agencies in more than 30 countries across the globe, which provides our customers with an extensive sales and service network with local contacts. This is a major advantage for our partners, as it gives them access to our solutions locally, and from a single source.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Are there any general growth opportunities or trends you can see arising in the next few years in the RV industry?
Stefan Geiger: I think three things will be important. Number one is the growing importance of comfort: having a comfortable temperature in the motorhome is important all year round, regardless of the outside temperature – meaning efficient thermal management is required. Number two is the upcoming self-sufficiency trend: the appeal of traveling independently, without relying on camping sites and their power supplies, is growing among RV owners. Number three is the customer’s desire for connectivity: the components within the vehicle have to be connected and controlled though one system. In addition, the topic of “remote control”, more specifically controlling and checking the status of vehicle components from outside the vehicle, will also gain importance.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Does Kalori’s expertise help in these matters?
Stefan Geiger: Definitely. In the medium and long term, we see ourselves becoming an expert system partner for providing solutions for these three trends from a single source. This is where Kalori’s expertise and innovative products and solutions blend in well with the rest of the Eberspächer Group’s portfolio.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Sounds interesting. I’d like to ask you something about your third point. Do you have any plans regarding connectivity in the RV segment, or maybe products are even already available?
Stefan Geiger: As I mentioned earlier, RV owners really rely on the comfort that connectivity offers. In some sense, they expect the motorhome to be a kind of “mobile smart home.” This requires the individual components to be digitally connected. Nobody wants three, four, or even five separate operating elements to regulate their air-conditioning system, heater, or warm water. We are currently planning to implement a digital platform solution in collaboration with development partners and RV manufacturers. We want to accomplish three things. First of all, we want to network the components inside the vehicle, so that everything can be controlled using one operating element. We also want to provide these functions in a remote cloud-based solution in the medium term, so that users can turn on the heater in advance when they’re outside the vehicle. Our third goal, something which will not only be of interest to the user but also to manufacturers, is to provide predictions of maintenance or repair cycles in the long term.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You mentioned a desire for self-sufficiency as one of the major upcoming trends. Will Eberspächer be addressing this in future?
Stefan Geiger: Traveling independently without having to rely on camp sites will become increasingly important. At the same time, RVs are being equipped with more and more components that need additional power. To lessen the load on the vehicle battery and use functions without requiring power supplies, we are working with our Canadian colleagues at Eberspaecher Vecture to develop ESS (Energy Storage System) solutions in the form of portable batteries. But campers who have a desire for self-sufficiency are already using our products: our fuel operated heaters can help to ensure that they are not dependent on camp sites, while still staying warm.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Traveling self-sufficient reminds me of Danny MacAskill. Is that why you chose the bike professional as your brand ambassador?
Stefan Geiger: Danny is a real outdoors guy. He travels around a lot in his motorhome, and needs sufficient space in it for himself and his bikes. After long days in all kinds of weather, he wants nothing more than to climb into a pre-heated vehicle. His motorhome is his trusty companion, especially during the Drop and Roll Tour, which will again take him to the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf this year, where he will be a guest at the Eberspächer booth.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Our last question concerns the topic of e-mobility. The first electric RVs have already been unveiled. Are you prepared for this development?
Stefan Geiger: Naturally, we are aware of the fact that the electric RV market is developing. For this reason, we are already looking into this topic and making preparations. For example, we have already released our Plugtronic electric vehicle heater, which can provide heat via a 230 V connection. But for the time being, we believe that the Diesel engine will remain the optimal energy source for RVs and help to meet self-sufficiency requirements. Purely battery electric drives do not yet meet these needs due to their heavy traction batteries and small range.