The automotive wire harness—the mass of cables that supply power and, in some cases, data across the electronics in the car—is the biggest and heaviest component in an electric vehicle. When completely unfurled, it can span over a few miles long. Wire harnesses are necessary connectors across ever-complexifying electronic systems in vehicles today, powering everything from the car’s radio system to its headlights.
But let’s face it. You probably haven’t thought much of automotive wire harnesses. It’s not a typical part of the car that you think of when one of the indicator lights on the dashboard goes on one morning when you’re late to work. Nor are you ever roused to ask the car salesman about all the advantages and disadvantages of this inglorious component, compelled instead by more electrifying properties like horsepower and assisted driving, the types of things you can actually brag about to your friends, if not your enemies.
And yet, the wire harness industry is big business. The market for automotive wire harnesses was $81B in 2018 and expected to reach $120B by 2025. As the electronics in the car become more complex with next-gen technologies like autonomous driving, the amount of wire harness needed per car, barring exceptions of technological innovation, will necessarily grow.
Historically, there has been little innovation in the area of wire harnesses. This inertia makes sense. Automotive brands tend to spend more money on the catchy types of things that draw in the customers. High-definition televisions baked into the back of the driver’s seat to keep junior sedated in digital wonderland. Adaptive lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control so you can down the highway at 80 mph without a care in the world. These are the types of things that build brands.
However, the times are changing. With the rise of electric vehicles, automakers are struggling to increase efficiencies across the vehicle by simplifying electronic systems and reducing the weight of the car. The wire harness has become one battleground for this effort. The rationale for this undertaking is clear. Given its massive size and volume, the wire harness is a well-known drag on vehicular efficiency. If you can reduce the weight of the wire harness or simplify its implementation, you can do things like extend the range of the car and make a more eco-friendly vehicle.
Innovation in wire harnesses has been historically and undeservedly overlooked. Until now.
We’re proud to announce our investment in the Series B financing of CelLink, a Bay-Area-based company that we believe will disrupt the wire harness industry. CelLink has developed a light-weight, highly-conductive, and low-cost flexible circuit that solves the typical pain points of traditional wire harnesses. As replacements for the traditional wire-bundle wire harnesses, CelLink’s circuits can reduce the weight of the harness by 60-80% and the volume by 70-90%. This lightened load enables not only greater vehicular efficiency but also instills in carmakers the ability to develop new, more efficient car designs unhampered by the limitations of the bulky wire bundles.
While the automotive industry has made previous efforts to investigate flex circuits as wire harness replacements, it has historically balked at the idea of actual integration of the technology full-scale across the car. The reason was due to cost concerns. In automotive, where every dollar in cost counts in building a car that averages a slim 8-10% in gross margin per unit, flex circuits historically have been too expensive. However, CelLink challenges the industry-wide inertia that has led to wire counts exploding above 2000 wires in modern vehicles. Based on its proprietary combination of manufacturing processes, designs, and materials, CelLink has developed flex circuits that finally meet the low-cost expectations of automakers, enabling the use of flex circuits for wire harness applications.
At BMW i Ventures, we’re very excited about CelLink’s revolutionary potential for the automotive industry, and we’re also enthused about the applications of CelLink’s technology across other applications in LED lighting, aerospace, and battery packs.
In this $22.5M of Series B financing, we join the Company along with new investors Franklin Templeton Ventures Partners, Fontinalis Partners, and Ford Motor Company, as well as existing investors including 3M Ventures and Robert Bosch Venture Capital. We’re extremely excited to join CelLink in this battle to turn the wire harness industry on its head.