Electric mobility is a promise and an unknown for the European market and West nations in general. For various reasons, the e-mobility is a need and an opportunity for a Country with a broad area of potential customers like China where Atop, now controlled by IMA, intends to play a protagonist role.

Amedeo Felisa, Executive Chairman of Atop Spa

Chaired by that outstanding Amedeo Felisa who until 2016 was Chief Executive Officer of Ferrari Spa and Ferrari Nv, Atop was established in 1993 and, since then, it has manufactured machines and lines for the production of wound stators and rotors of electric motors. Controlled by Charme private equity fund since dal 2017, at the end of last May the company was taken over by the Emilia Group IMA that acquired 84% of stakes and is going to make the enterprise the pillar of its diversification and control strategies in the e-mobility sector. Headquarters at Barberino Val d’Elsa, in Florence province, Atop has made research one of the feathers in the cap of its activity and develops innovative technological solutions for electric traction in strict collaboration with its customers, analysing their products to optimize inherent manufacturing. Their incidence on the corporate turnover (89 million Euros foreseen by the end of the year, +50% versus 2018) is expected to reach the 50% peak in 2019; lower is clearly the weight of supplies to traditional automotive, white goods, power-tools and industrial applications. In the course of its two last financial years, as also the financial press reported, as many as 50 workers have joined its human resources and now the company relies on 250 employees. It is not a secondary aspect, as Tuscan manufacturer’s force precisely resides in knowledge and human factor, as Amedeo Felisa in person has confirmed to Electric Motor Engineering.

Four-wheeled China: numbers
To outline the sizes of the Chinese automotive market, we should just think that, despite the 14.6% downturn versus 2018, in the only April month 1.98 million vehicles were delivered there. They have calculated sales of hybrid electric or battery models amounted to 1.3 million units in 2018, rising by 67% compared to the previous year. The local Government finances the start-ups operating in the e-mobility sector and in 2018 allocated budgets reached three billion dollars. Still institutional programmes impose the introduction of at least 30% electric models into the respective ranges to manufacturers; and 533 were the car lines withdrawn from the market owing to environmental reasons, and among them some Audi, Chevrolet and Mercedes.
Twisting machine for hairpin stators

The course is traced

«The investment in human resources will go on», Felisa stated in an interview, «also because some operations, despite the automation boost, are still entrusted to specialized operators. I personally try to bring as a dowry that precious capability of perceiving customers’ requirements, gained as automotive’s child». On the other hand, according to the manufacturer who in his experience heritage naturally encompasses on-board electronics and electric motors not intended for the vehicle ambit, know-how is an added-value appreciated by IMA to the ends of the takeover. «It was foreseeable that IMA’s share might grow and land in other high-potential segments», Felisa underlined, «considering the Bolognese brand’s presence in Charme operation. We have provided our partner with competences and professionalism, manufacturing lines and a branched and structured distribution channel. Last but not least, components upon design that are worth 60% of the business». The current evolution phase is completed by an enlargement of operational spaces, while the growth of activity and turnover will depend on the automotive industry’s trend, too.

In transition phase

The clarity of the industrial policy in the mobility matter is the reason why the People’s Republic of China is the main target of Atop and, consequently, of IMA. «Currently», the manager commented «we are living a transition phase on a global scale. The horizon is full electric but at present reality is dominated by hybrid and plug-in. The evolutionary course towards the full electrification has undoubtedly its sound reason for existence, especially abroad and, to an even bigger extent, in China, in the light of a variety of different motivations». Environment first, because Beijing is strenuously struggling against the atmospheric pollution, considering that, according to some estimates, its production of carbon dioxide would amount to 13 gigatons, 30% more than those emitted by Europe and USA together. Not only. The socialist State neither owns oil resources nor does it intend to depend on others to provision the necessary requirements to sustain its immense circulating fleet. «In the e-mobility ambit», Felisa commented, «Chinese players can proceed according to their own rates and rules, they own rare earths that represent a precious raw material for the production of batteries; they operate in joint venture with big western companies».

Automated line for manufacturing single-pole brushless stators for electric power steering

Head in Europe, volumes elsewhere

Precisely, because if on one hand the vast majority of commercial negotiations is likely to concentrate in Asia, on the other hand Europe still constitutes the adoptive country of the most innovative and advanced R&D. Therefore, «Atop aims at preserving a strong focus» on the old continent that plays a crucial role for the «technological progress», but at the same time it stakes on the Dragon to go on increasing its sale volumes. From China to Italy, the gap is not small at all. «Italy suffers from the indecisions of Fiat Chrysler», Amedeo Felisa ended, «for which electric motors have been anything but the core business for a long time. Currently, FCA seems to show more propensity for the issue, although the missed agreement with Renault has been stunning. Apart from this, the matter is convincing users to shift to electric: for instance, making available the necessary infrastructures, of complex implementation. Elsewhere, in Europe, the road is already traced, also due to incentives allocated by various national Executives. The paradox is that, astride limitations to diesel and the strong debate about electrification, customers finally remain doubtful and uncertain. And they do not buy at all. In such a complex scenario, Atop confirms to be partner of the major world players, facing ever-changing challenges with customized solutions for state-of-the-art electric motors».