By Kali Kotoski
Wisconsin-based Wells Vehicle Electronics has rebranded its client-facing recreational, automotive, agricultural and industrial business unit to Wells Engineered Products in a bid to cement North American brand recognition as a leading product solutions partner.
Anchored by a company history that dates back to supplying ignition coils and magnetos to Henry Ford as he sought to mass produce the Model T, Wells’ rebranding is focused on highlighting its core business — to serve as a full-line manufacturer of custom precision engine management components.
“Because of our expertise in manufacturing automotive components and electronics — high-reliability electronics — we are well-positioned to help the off-road and power equipment people,” said Greg Burneske, director of Wells Engineered Products. “It is a natural fit for us; problem is nobody knows that we are in that segment.”
With the rebranding, Wells launched a new dedicated website to provide information and relevant content regarding its extensive portfolio and custom solutions for different industries.
According to Burneske, Wells is a Tier 1 OEM supplier with existing partnerships with some of America’s premiere motorcycle, snowmobile and commercial vehicle manufacturers, supplying custom engineered engine management sensors, oil pressure sensors, ignition coils, charging systems and voltage regulators.
“What people know us for is our aftermarket automotive products and the new OEM business unit, Wells Engineered Products, is targeted for OEM customers that want to know us for something different,” Burneske said.
In 2015, NGK Spark Plug Co. Ltd. of Japan acquired Wells for an aggregate purchase price of $251.4 million. Since then the company has been implementing a North American and global growth strategy.
“That has been a real boost for us to have a parent company with a global footprint,” said Burneske, while adding that operations have admittedly “been rather stealthy” and “under the radar.”
Many of the customers Wells has are also NGK customers, so there is a natural operational synergy, explained Burneske.
“We are very hands on with our customers because when a company makes an investment into their suppliers, they have to believe that we will get them across the finish line. And when they know we have the backing of NGK, that is a powerful combination to gain trust,” he said.
With close to 50 engineers in North America, a near fully-automated plant in Wisconsin with another plant in Mexico, two warehousing operations in Iowa and Texas, and a solid international supply chain, staying on top of industry trends and technological advancements is key to Wells’ operations.
For example, Burneske explained, that with the advancement of charging systems, electronics, power output and overall engine complexity, voltage regulators have become very challenging to design and engineer.
“With our regulators located typically in very harsh environments like on a motorcycle where it is battered by rubble and water and has to put out 50 amps under all circumstances, it is a very challenging application to make the 12 volts nice and clean and smooth,” he said.
That is why it is key for Wells to get in early during product development so that by the time production begins, customers have a well engineered, tested and reliable solution.
“Our customers expect us to lead them and deliver the latest technology. And that can be a bit of a balancing act because they want us to guide them, but they also have proprietary info in say their five-year plan that they won’t want to necessarily share,” Burneske said.
With over 100 years of experience, a Japanese parent company and well-established North American operations, Burneske said the company also has to focus on international manufacturing costs to deliver high quality products while keeping prices competitive, especially as manufacturing flight to low-cost destinations remains an unavoidable reality.
“Nobody is immune to price pressure and that is a constant struggle. Consumers expect more value year after year, expect to get more for the same, and sometimes less,” he said. “We are not going to be the cheapest component out there, but we provide and design valuable custom solutions. Having a plant in Mexico helps for a low-cost option, but we have also invested in high levels of automation to keep prices down.”
While Wells declined to disclose its list of OEM customers there is a good chance there is a Wells product in something you sell, and part of the rebranding effort is to further enter into the outdoor power equipment industry.
“[Outdoor power equipment] is certainly a big part of why we are rebranding and to get penetration in that space. Whether that is developing sensors, position and balance sensors, ignition coils or voltage regulators for lawnmowers, tractors, four-stroke engines and larger equipment, we will work very close with customers,” Burneske said.
As manufacturers strive to shorten their development cycles, it is important for Wells to grasp the nature of the problem quickly and early, Burneske said, adding that it is often surprising how fast everything can come together to allow for production.
Kali Kotoski is an editor with the Power Group at EPG Media, parent company of Outdoor Power Equipment.