Automotive Lifestyle

30 years of KW – from a one-man business to a global entrepreneurial group

In May 1992, Klaus Wohlfarth created the foundation for an impressive success story by starting his retail business KW Tuning. Today three decades later, the retailer of sporty car tuning and accessories has become a world-renowned manufacturer in the segment for coilovers, motorsport dampers, and alloy wheels.

The heart of the KW automotive group is the Fichtenberg-based suspension manufacturer KW automotive, which Klaus Wohlfarth, together with his brother Jürgen Wohlfarth and many dedicated employees, has turned into the global market leader for individual suspension.

The owner-managed KW automotive Group employs 1,200 people worldwide, of which 360 are active in the home base at Fichtenberg. In addition to the alloy wheel manufacturer BBS, the KW automotive Group also includes the offroad and rally suspension manufacturer Reiger Suspension, the shock absorber division of the technology group AL-KO, and other company-owned suspension and SimRacing brands.

Inspired by seeing a problem more as a challenge and mastering this challenge successfully is what drives entrepreneur Klaus Wohlfarth and founder of KW automotive every day. In May 2022, it’s the 30th anniversary of the founding of the retail store “KW Tuning” in his early 20s in his hometown of Murrhardt. Three decades later, the retailer has become a global company with 13 sites and 1,200 employees, whose innovative products are appreciated by car manufacturers, motorsport teams, and car enthusiasts worldwide. “At the time, the products that customers wanted didn’t exist, so we started developing our own coilover suspension,” Klaus Wohlfarth recalls of his early days as an entrepreneur. The introduced KW Coilover kit was a milestone at the Essen Motor Show in 1995.

With his own roots in motorsports and always focusing on individual customer benefits, Klaus Wohlfarth and his companions continued to optimize and improve the coilover suspension product. Over the past 30 years, the suspension manufacturer, which changed its name to KW automotive GmbH in 1998, has developed numerous innovations. Well known KW developments include rear axle spring perches that can be adjusted in height, valve technologies that can be separately adjusted in damper characteristics, the production of stainless steel struts, hydraulic lift systems, the use of composite materials for spring perches, smartphone apps for chassis control and many more ensured that the coilover manufacturer led by the two brothers Klaus and Jürgen Wohlfarth became the market leader for individual suspension systems. But throughout the many years, it’s not just car enthusiasts that become customers. 

For instance, Mercedes-Benz was the first car manufacturer to commission KW automotive to equip selected production models such as the Mercedes SLK 55 AMG Black Series with a coilover suspension with separately adjustable compression and rebound damping. “But it didn’t stop with AMG,” Klaus Wohlfarth continues. Today, KW automotive supplies both on-road and racing cars and often even both for Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Porsche and other car manufacturers. KW automotive not only manufactures suspensions, but also supports the automotive industry, including smaller manufacturers and tuners, in the design and development of suspensions. “We deliver to business customers who have since become friends and whose cars I used to have posters of in my room. Our industrial customers also include new manufacturers such as Rimac Automobili, whose 1900-hp Nevera electric hypercar we equip from the factory with our adaptive suspension technology. In today’s motorsport, there is hardly a championship where our brands are not involved.”

Making what at first sight seems impossible simply possible

Others might have been satisfied with such achievements and the state of the art of suspension technology, but that was never an option for the 53-year-old founder, managing director and automotive enthusiast. In its segment, KW automotive is the only suspension manufacturer that develops and manufactures adaptive coilover suspensions including its own control units, sensor technology and software control algorithms for autonomous, situation-dependent damping adjustment while driving in real time. KW automotive is also a major player in the field of “artificial intelligence” for suspension control systems. For example, the suspension manufacturer has been working closely with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in this area for several years. Together with the Institute for Digitalization and Electric Drives (IDA) at Heilbronn University (HHN) at the Künzelsau campus, it is actively developing new technologies for both the automotive industry and the aftermarket.

The production workflow at KW automotive in Fichtenberg is as unique as the KW engineering itself

The KW automotive group produces all of its products, such as the coilovers of their brands KW, ST and ap, with a vertical manufacturing range of almost 95 percent at its headquarters in Fichtenberg, Swabia. One of the unique features of this chain is that all processes, from suspension strut and housing production to damper assembly, spring coating and final chassis assembly, are designed to be so flexible that suspensions can be made based on individual orders. Because of this “built-to-order” principle, KW automotive clearly stands out from all other suspension manufacturers and produces around 400 individual suspension kits every day. Of which about 350 are intended for totally different vehicles. “There is no other manufacturer in the global market for individual suspension solutions that can produce so many different coilover suspension kits per day with the speed and precision as we can achieve at our site in Fichtenberg. Depending on the suspension, more than 85 production steps are necessary,” says Klaus Wohlfarth, describing one of the unique selling points of the flexible production structure. For example, in 1995, KW’s product range included about nine chassis products for four vehicle applications, but by 2022, at the Fichtenberg site alone, there are over 26,000 suspension applications for more than 2,400 vehicle applications.

Investments that are ready for the challenges of tomorrow

Between 2017 and 2020, the suspension manufacturer invested in the expansion of its headquarters and all manufacturing and logistics processes were digitalized for the successful transition to Industry 4.0. “We implemented all of this during our daily work activities and also successfully mastered it thanks to our dedicated team of employees and strong partners,” Klaus Wohlfarth continues. As a result of this digitization process, the companies that were acquired by KW automotive in 2021 will also benefit from synergies at the headquarters in Fichtenberg. Last year, in addition to the light alloy wheel manufacturer BBS, the manufacturer Reiger Suspension, which specializes in offroad and rally suspensions, and the shock absorber business of AL-KO, which covers heavy commercial vehicles and the passenger car aftermarket, all joined the KW automotive Group. Additionally, also the SimRacing business is developing positively for the owner-managed companies group. With the brands Ascher Racing, TrackTime and RaceRoom, KW is active in the fast-growing e-sports sector and is shaping it with further developments, in the same way the company approaches the suspension aftermarket.

Photo Credit to KW automotive

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