October 18th 2019

Disruption in the automotive industry.

"The car experience" is being lost with autonomous driving.

Peter Cöllen (Mitte) mit Anita Zehrer (Leiterin Zentrum Familienunternehmen, Joachim Kahl (MCI Lektor), Frau Cöllen und MCI Rektor Andreas Altmann.


Peter Coellen, head of Vorwerk & Sohn for 35 years, talks at the Entrepreneurial School® about his life's work: the transformation of the almost 200-year-old family business Vorwerk & Sohn into a stable, future-oriented, internationally positioned company and he discusses his concern for a decisive industry for Germany and Austria.

Vorwerk & Sohn, which goes back to a ribbon-weaving mill founded in 1827 (often confused with Vorwerk & Co, also owned by the same family), is an automotive supplier and sealing specialist. As the leader in innovation for chassis technology, system components and materials in the automotive industry, the company employs around 4,100 people at 17 locations worldwide.

The road to becoming an automotive supplier was a long one however. Founded eight generations ago, Coellen's grandfather concentrated on the production of elastic bands, where rubber first came in to play. Soon all kinds of things were being made of rubber: shoe soles, hoses, adhesive tapes and even the well-known Fulda tyres were produced by Vorwerk & Sohn for several years before eventually being sold to Goodyear.

Peter Coellen, whose mother hails from the Vorwerk family, had originally taken over the print shop of his father, who died at an early age. In 1984, he joined the Vorwerk Group. He quickly recognized the problems: much too large a production and an outdated product range. As an initial act of liberation, Peter Coellen parted with 500 employees and completely geared the rubber company towards the automotive industry. Over the years further adjustments had to be made; among other things, the value-added chain was broken up and previous departments, which could no longer be managed profitably, were outsourced to joint ventures, which today operate as independent companies and generate many times the former turnover.

This positive development was supported by the internationalization of the automotive industry, which led to a drastic reduction in the depth of value added; automobile manufacturers increasingly outsourced the production of entire vehicle components to suppliers. Vorwerk Autotec sees itself as a specialist for components and systems that guarantee safety, reliability and driving comfort. New products, such as so-called "vibration absorbers", are used in high-end automobiles that are characterized by their low weight and low noise levels.

The biggest current challenge is the technology transformation, which is shaping towards e-mobility. However, this transformation is taking place at a much faster rate outside Europe. For the next few years, it is therefore assured that the company will put its focus on China and North America.