How a cheap component could help kill combustion engine cars

Walter Glück, head of Leoni’s harness business, said the supplier was working with automakers on new automated solutions for wiring harnesses in electric vehicles.

Leoni focuses on zonal or modular harnesses, which would be divided into six to eight parts, short enough to automate assembly and reduce complexity.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” Glück said. “If you want to reduce production time in your car factory, a modular wiring harness helps you.”

Among automakers, BMW is also considering using modular wiring harnesses, requiring fewer semiconductors and fewer cables, which would save space and make them lighter, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the new harnesses would also make it easier to upgrade vehicles wirelessly – an area Tesla now dominates.

CelLink, a California-based startup, has developed a fully automated, flat and easy-to-install “flexible harness” and raised $250 million earlier this year from companies including BMW and suppliers Lear and Robert Bosch.

CEO Kevin Coakley wouldn’t identify the customers, but said CelLink’s harnesses have been installed in nearly one million electric vehicles.

Only Tesla has this scale, but the automaker did not respond to a request for comment.

Coakley said CelLink’s new $125 million factory under construction in Texas will have 25 automated production lines that can change designs in about 10 minutes because components are produced from digital files.

The company is working on electric vehicles with a number of automakers and plans to build another plant in Europe, he said.

While the turnaround time for a conventional wire harness can take up to 26 weeks, Coakley said his company could ship redesigned products in two weeks.

That speed is what traditional automakers are looking for when going electric, said Dan Ratliff, director of Detroit-based venture capital firm Fontinalis Partners, which was founded by Ford chairman FN, Bill Ford, and invested in CellLink.

For decades, the industry didn’t need to act quickly to redesign a part like the wiring harness, but Tesla changed that, Ratliff added. “On the EV side, it’s just go, go, go.”

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