LEADING FROM THE TOP WITH PASSION
Australian Automotive Aftermarket Magazine caught up with MANN+HUMMEL Group Chairman Thomas Fischer at the recent AAA Expo to discuss the future of a company producing filters in a market that is moving towards battery EVs
From the second you are introduced to MANN+HUMMEL Group Chairman, Thomas Fischer, you can tell he is genuinely enthusiastic about the company and the products it produces and sells.
Thomas is the grandson of one of the original founders of the company, Adolf Mann, and, as well as being Chairman, he represents the Mann family on the company’s Board.
After his vocational training as a banker at the Deutsche Bank, Thomas studied Business Economics at the University of Mannheim.
For 12 years he worked for the ITT Automotive Group at different sites such as Bietigheim-Bissingen, Korea, the USA and Frankfurt, with his last role being General Manager Product Line Electrical Motors. Afterwards he joined Hasco Hasenclever in Lüdenscheid as Chief Executive Officer.
Since 2002 Thomas Fischer – who is married and has two adult sons – has acted as Chairman of the Board of the MANN+HUMMEL Group, Ludwigsburg, and he holds various seats as board member and on the advisory council.
In his function as Chairman and representative of the Mann family, he focuses on strategy, vision and innovation.
He also sees his role as preserving and advancing the family-owned company, its values, goals and culture by driving change through forming, integrating, aligning, and guiding the management team.
Interestingly, the company started life in textiles before pivoting to become a filtration specialist.
“The founders had a textile company, and in the Second World War, they needed to keep the workers – mostly women – busy. Not with producing women’s clothes as they had done before, but with something which was important for military or war use to keep the factory running. And so, they came up with filtration,” Thomas said.
The business actually continued with textiles right up until 1941 before moving exclusively into automotive.
“They focused on the automotive side and not the textile side, because with the competition you get out of Asia, you cannot produce textiles competitively in Germany,” Thomas said.
As a company that focuses heavily on filtration products, many would see the current world push into the Electric Vehicle market as a major challenge for the business which has a product line featuring oil and engine air intake filters, but Thomas remains upbeat about the company’s future prospects.
“I’m a firm, firm believer that the ICE engines will stay for a while yet,” Thomas says.
“It could well be that ICE engines will be fueled by synthetic fuels which you can produce from hydrogen, and Australia will become one of the biggest hydrogen producers in the world. There will be a place for battery EVs, for fuel cells and for synthetic fuel.
“Europe is for me a little bit too dogmatic for going only with battery electric, but in China, you have apartment blocks with 500 apartments each. You cannot charge 500 cars in that situation.
“People are talking that we will go electrical, but we don’t want to carry tons of batteries around, and until the battery technology has improved dramatically, they still will stay with combustion engines. Also, the heavy duty and the off-road area still will be there for us for a long time.
“What about countries where you don’t have infrastructure to charge, or you go long distances, like when you are living in the middle of Australia? It is unlikely you will find charging stations at every corner.”
Thomas also points out that the MANN-FILTER range also includes many products that will remain important even for EVs.
“The cabin filter is getting more and more important, and we do smart cabin filters, and we work with data there, because the longer you can keep the air in the cabins, the less you have to heat or to cool the air you get from outside, and then we help extending the range as you are not drawing on power from the battery for cabin temperature control,” Thomas said.
He also sees opportunities for a whole new range of filtration products especially for the EV market.
“A battery is breathing when you charge it – it’s getting hot, so air goes out, air goes in. You need a filter medium which helps that,” Thomas said.
Thomas also explains that dust is the enemy of batteries, and it needs to be filtered from the battery fluids.
“And in the hydrogen area, you need an ion exchange filter, there are a lot of filtration applications where we can work with the car industry,” he says.
“There will be a business for us, but for us, it’s using our filtration technology for applications in fuel cells and battery electric.”
He says MANN-FILTER is working closely with China to develop and recognise new filtration products.
“China is driving electrical because in ICE, others are stronger, the Japanese or the Europeans,” he said.
MANN-FILTER is also focused on filtering brake dust via its brake dust particle filter products.
“The brake dust filter is a great product because it keeps the rims clean, so you don’t have the dust on the rims, but it’s even more important for air quality as it reduces brake dust emissions significantly,” Thomas says.
The company is even working with car companies, such as Mercedes, to develop filters for road dust.
“We put a filter unit below the car, so when you drive, the air is pushed through this filter, or you can put it in front of the radiator. And so, you get at the end more dust particles out of the air than your car produces via brake dust, tire and road abrasion. This is extremely important in highly polluted environments. It’s a very good product,” he said.
In fact, Thomas sees a strong future for MANN-FILTER as the world moves towards EVs. He says that the key to a good filter is the material used to perform the actual filtration.
“Nobody has as good filtration media know-how as we have. We do this together with partners, companies who produce it, but we invest strongly into filtration media ourselves,” Thomas explains.
“We have started to produce synthetic media ourselves. We have already a big base and we are expanding this…the better the filter media, the less energy you need to push the air or the liquid through, the less energy you need, the more sustainable you are.
“Filtration media is for us the big key, and I think we are…No, I’m convinced we are, the leading company there. We have very good competitors, but yeah, the others follow us, so filtration media is one big area of focus for us.”
Thomas believes that more emphasis for the company in the future will be placed on e-commerce.
“E-commerce doesn’t mean for us that we will work through different channels. We will still sell to distributors, but we will know better what the distributor needs now or tomorrow, and we can work with the data to have the right product at the right place and the right time,” he explains.
Thomas believes that people and culture are paramount today for any successful business.
“I think the most important thing is we always have great people in this company, and we had the right people at the right time, and people who are truly dedicated. Take a look at China: Due to the recent lockdowns, people cannot commute between their homes and our plants. Our chinese colleagues teamed up, sleep voluntarily in our plants in order to keep production running. That kind of dedication and spirit is remarkable and can only be found where good people and managers come together. A big thank you to all of them,” he explains.
MANN-FILTER is one of the leading filter brands in Europe and with its acquisition of WIX in the US from 2008, it now has a huge global footprint, but Thomas says that Australia is also an important market that the management of the company is keen to grow.
In fact, a big part of the reason for Thomas’ trip to Australia for the AAA Expo was to try to gain a better understanding of exactly what a market on the other side of the world requires.
“We started here some years ago, and relative to the other markets in Southeast Asia, Australia is our biggest, but we could do so much more,” Thomas muses.
“With this big country, you need a car. The Australians value a car. And then you have an extremely good mining industry, which needs very good filtration, and these kinds of solutions we can offer, and we love to offer.
“There is still a lot of potential for us in different areas. We are quite convinced that Australia will remain one of our top markets in South-East Asia.
“The product range is growing. We will expand the WIX filters here, because they’re positioned a little bit different than the MANN-FILTER brand.
“MANN-FILTER is very popular in Europe, WIX is very popular on the American market. I am very pleased with the strong position the brands have on their respective markets. However, as a globally operating company, we must not make the mistake of thinking only in European or American terms. We have to open up a little bit more to understand that other regional markets sometimes work a little bit differently.”
To learn more about the MANN+HUMMEL Group, visit www.mann-hummel.com