Looking back, looking forward

We talked to Barry Kellar, Global Vice President Automotive Filters at Freudenberg Filtration Technologies, about his views on the way 2020 has unfolded and how he sees the year to come. We have summarized our conversation in the following article.

Barry Kellar shares his insights into the immediate future of the sector

2020 began pretty well, with many promising and exciting projects all over the globe. However, the emergence of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 had a rapid negative impact for customers and us alike. Numerous car manufacturers worldwide shut down entirely for months, dealerships were shut down, which impacts sizably our OES business, and even IAM workshops experienced a huge decline. 

Freudenberg Filtration Technologies succeeded in adjusting to remote working very quickly and we were able to maintain our customary levels of service and supply. We demonstrated and still demonstrate today our social responsibility by providing materials for different medical device projects and also got involved in numerous collaborations to contribute overcoming this crisis situation as soon as possible. Even with automotive customers, as some ventured into the manufacture of medical devices, we educated them and supported them during their developments. 

Working for the general good

We moved rapidly to explore how our filtration technology could be further optimized to provide the best possible protection against microorganisms. Working with several renowned research institutes within the EU and China, we were able to independently confirm the high effectiveness of our technology in capturing and inactivating viruses. 

This thankfully also led to an increased exchange with many global OEMs who were already requesting increased filtration performance for their cabin air filters. So even though we experienced a challenging first half of 2020, we found ourselves very busy developing new opportunities in the premium filtration sector. So though car production stopped, demand for innovations flourished and our team met those challenges head on.

Looking ahead to 2021

While we have seen periodic interest in more advanced filtration solutions from automotive manufacturers and OEMs in the past, we are currently experiencing a greater awareness towards the topics of healthier air and improved cabin air filtration as never before. The growing interest in “health and wellness” among our OEM customers reached new levels. Together with our customers, we want to make the benefits of cabin air filtration more visible for end consumers and also spread it into all other areas of mobility. 

Manufacturers of buses and other public transportation vehicles worldwide, for instance, have also already increased their interest in finding better solutions for providing their passengers with cleaner air. Nevertheless, there are still massive challenges ahead of us that we will only be able to overcome together. 

Slow return to normal

Over the next three years, we anticipate continued difficulties in both OEM production and how customers will need to react in terms of maintaining the OES channel. Increased remote working and less commuting will have a strong negative impact on demand levels. But we also see increased use of personal vehicles versus public transportation or use of ride sharing services. Whether those trends remain is unknown. Even urbanization, or possibly a reversal of it, will also play a role in future transportation models.  

Although it’s impossible to make an accurate prediction, we don’t see car production returning to 2019 levels before 2023, although we expect the OES segment to have largely stabilized by the end of 2022. That said, the increased focus on filtration and the need to maximize its effectiveness plays directly to our strengths. As the inventor of the cabin air filter, we remain the market leader when it comes to innovations based on proven technology. Speak to us! Together, we will continue to intensify our efforts in that direction to protect people and optimize processes all over the world.