From a forge to a Global Player
175 years Westfalia
In 1844, Johann Bernard Knöbel laid the foundations for the present "Westfalia-Automotive GmbH" by starting a blacksmith's forge in Wiedenbrück, Germany. At first, farming equipment and carriages were repaired and built here. In 1876 came the first carriage. When his son Wilhelm took over the business, the second son, Franz, inherited the house and the tools so that he would be able to establish his own business.
In the summer of 1887, Franz Knöbel opened a new company that manufactured harnesses, coaches, hunting carriages, and sledges. In 1918, the self-driving coach, which he developed himself, proved a great success. The name "Westfalia" first appeared in the commercial register in 1922, and the first open box trailers were built from 1927.
The next Knöbel generation, comprising Franz, Hans and Gerhard, took over the reins of the company in 1933. They expanded trailer production, and in 1931 Franz Knöbel developed the tow ball, using the socket joint of a chicken bone as his inspiration. This connection for towing vehicles and trailers was so revolutionary, that it remains unrivalled to this very day. This makes Westfalia the inventor of the towbar.
The manufacture of camping equipment for the VW transporter was added to the production of trailers and towbars in 1952. In this way, a new product was born: the camper, which made Westfalia known around the world. This was followed by the production of caravans, and hearse and horse trailers, the construction of the cockpit for the Mercedes-Unimog, the small delivery van Fridolin (VW Type 147), the introduction of the track stabilizing coupling SSK, and the expansion of camper manufacture, also for Mercedes and Ford.
At the start of the 1960s, the cousins Horst (son of Hans Knöbel) and Werner (son of Gerhard Knöbel) took over the helm. In 1966 the first detachable towbar (nut system) came on the market. The one millionth towing hitch left the conveyor belt in 1970. Other innovations followed: the fully-automatic towbar entered the market in 1987 (A40V), and in 1995 the first aluminium towbar in the world made its appearance.
In 1999, the era of the Knöbel family came to an end, with Westfalia-Werke GmbH & Co.KG being divided up according to production areas. This led to the creation of Westfalia-Automotive GmbH, a manufacturer of towbars and matching electrical kits, Westfalia-Mobile GmbH (camper devices), and the Westfalia-Trailer-Group (trailer construction). In 2002, Westfalia-Automotive GmbH was the first company to supply an electric retractable towbar for assembly line production. In 2008, the in-house developed foldable cycle carrier ("Portilo") enters the market.
The following years saw the acquisition of the towbar manufactures Monoflex from Sweden and Siarr from France, which helped expand our product range. Subsidiaries were also established in Italy, Poland, Russia, and the UK. Our portfolio now contains towbars for around 800 vehicle types, with Westfalia-Automotive enjoying a European market share of 40%. We supply products to almost all vehicle manufacturers for assembly line installation (OE), as well as wholesale and retail traders for the aftermarket. Innovative products like the retractable towbar and the Trailer Towing Assistant (TTA) are proof of the company's highly innovative approach.
In 2016, Westfalia-Automotive became part of the Horizon Global Corporation from America, one of the leading global providers of trailer and transport systems. This marked the start of an even more global focus for the company.
At present, our 700 employees produce 1 million towbars per year, and the company is pursuing further growth. A great variety of additional innovations are already being developed by our technicians; innovations that are set to guarantee the company's future success.