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How a Simple Part Could Change the Automobile Industry

FILE - Employees work at a wire harness and cable assembly manufacturing company that exports to the U.S., in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 27, 2017. (REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo)
FILE - Employees work at a wire harness and cable assembly manufacturing company that exports to the U.S., in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 27, 2017. (REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo)
How a Simple Part Could Change the Automobile Industry
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The wire harness is a low-cost car part that connects wires together. But, production of the parts has been causing problems in the auto industry. Some predict this simple part could speed the change from gas-powered cars to electric cars.

The war in Ukraine has limited supplies of the wire harness. Ukraine usually produces wire harnesses for hundreds of thousands of new vehicles every year.

Low-wage workers put these necessary car parts together using wire, plastic, and rubber.

Automobile industry experts say the lack of wire harnesses for gas engines could make electric vehicles (EVs) more popular. They use a kind of lighter, machine-made harness.

Most new cars worldwide are still gasoline-powered but electric vehicle sales grew to four million last year. Michigan-based auto expert Sandy Munro estimates electric vehicles will make up half of worldwide new car sales by 2028. "The future is coming up awful fast,” Munro said.

Because of the supply problems caused by the war in Ukraine, carmakers have been trying to make the harnesses in other countries with low labor costs.

Mercedes-Benz was able to import harnesses from Mexico. Some Japanese suppliers are increasing production in Morocco. Others are seeking new producers in countries including Tunisia, Poland, Serbia, and Romania.

The Tesla model

Auto manufacturers also are exploring new ways to make wire harnesses.

Adrian Hallmark is the head of Bentley. He said that the British carmaker feared losing 30 to 40 percent of its car production for 2022 because of the lack of harnesses.

"The Ukraine crisis threatened to close our factory fully for several months, much longer than we did for COVID."

He added that the supply problems had increased Bentley’s interest in developing a simple harness for electric vehicles. This new harness would be controlled by a central computer. Bentley, a division of Volkswagen, plans a group of products by 2030.

Electric car manufacturers such as Tesla use new, simpler wire harnesses. Machines can put them together. They are also lighter, which is important because less weight permits electric vehicles to go farther.

Changing the model

Walter Glück is head of harness supply at the German company Leoni. He said that Leoni is working with carmakers on new, automated production methods for wire harnesses for electric vehicles. Leoni is developing harnesses that are made of six to eight separate parts. These harnesses will be simple enough to use automated production.

CelLink, a new company based in the American state of California, has developed a fully automated, flat "flex harness" that is easy to install.

CelLink head Kevin Coakley said nearly one million electric vehicles have the CelLink harnesses.

The company is working on EVs with several carmakers and considering building another factory in Europe, he said.

Coakley said his company could ship redesigned harnesses in two weeks. It used to take up to 26 weeks to change a traditional harness.

Dan Ratliff is an investor at Fontinalis Partners, an investment company based in Detroit, Michigan. He said carmakers want to make vehicles more quickly. This new harness would make that possible.

For many years, the industry has not needed to move fast to rethink a part like the wire harness, but Tesla has changed that, Ratliff added.

"On the EV side, it's just go, go, go."

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Nick Carey and Christina Amann reported this story for Reuters. Matthew Caputo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

awful(ly) –adv. very, extremely

automate – v. to run or operate (something, such as a factory or system) by using machines, computers, and the like, instead of people to do the work

flex – n. an electric cable containing two or more wires that is connected to an electrical appliance.

install –v. to put a part into place when building or putting a device such as a machine together

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