After long road, Microheat wins OEM status with major carmaker

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In the hyper-competitive automotive industry, it often takes several years to take products to market, let alone to win original-equipment-supplier status with a major auto manufacturer.

In 1994, Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Microheat Inc. developed a technology called HotShot to heat windshield wiper fluid so it could clean a windshield fast and effectively during freezing winter months. Since then, the company has been successful selling the product to the automotive aftermarket, but it wasn't until recently that it scored business with a carmaker.

"In less than a decade, Microheat has introduced HotShot to the automotive industry [and] transitioned from a development-phase company to a tier 1 supplier for OEMs," said President-CEO Gary Pilibosian. "We've established distribution to the aftermarket in 50 countries including every major automotive market. General Motors is now offering HotShot on two 2006 vehicles, the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne, with other platforms under consideration."

No matter how great the HotShot concept was, however, it didn't sell itself. There were many marketing, sales and development challenges along the way, Pilibosian said. And what's traditionally seen as marketing takes a backseat to one-on-one, engineer-to-engineer, hand-in-hand product development. In other words, there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

"We had to prove the functionality of the unit in all climates and altitudes—extreme hot and cold, extreme high and low," Pilibosian said. "We had to pass five years of rigorous testing by General Motors to prove durability for both passenger cars, like the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne, and off-the-road vehicles like the Hummer. After they accepted the product's performance, we had to demonstrate that we were capable of manufacturing at high-volume levels."

Microheat passed all these hurdles and has received TS16949 certification as an original equipment manufacturer, which represents the top-quality performance in the automotive industry, Pilibosian said.

Aftermarket performance certainly went a long way to help the company get its foot in the door with automakers. Strong sales in every major automotive market have shown affirmation of the product, Pilibosian said.

Backed by that track record, Microheat expanded its sales team domestically and internationally to work with 22 carmakers in order to convince them to consider HotShot as a standard feature for their vehicles.

Industry trade shows helped spread the word among auto manufacturers. HotShot was unveiled at the North American Auto Show in Detroit in 2003, he said. This year, it was showcased on the Cadillac DTS and the Buick Lucerne at the General Motors news conference at the Chicago Auto Show in February.

Public relations and community efforts have also generated a lot of positive press and goodwill, Pilibosian said. But, ultimately, the secret to Microheat's success was that it identified a need that hadn't been fulfilled and developed a unique solution, Pilibosian said.

"The opportunity is likely to be right under your nose, so you need to make a conscious effort to look at everything and ask, `How can I make this better?' That's always going to be the launching point for innovation and acceptance in the industry."

With major wins with GM and expected contracts with other carmakers, Microheat sees a bright future. "Going forward, our goal is nothing less than to be a standard feature on all new cars within the next five years," Pilibosian said. 

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