Huf history: automotive supplier for more than a century
The Huf history is full of fascinating highlights. For more than a century, the automotive supplier has been writing automotive history as a leading specialist in secure car access and authorization systems. Ready for an exciting tour through the history of Huf? We will take you on a moving journey back in time with numerous "key moments".
Whether it's a spectacular sports car, a practical everyday car or a versatile family van: Many iconic car models have components from Huf on board – from door handles to keys and lettering emblems to complete lock sets. VW Beetle, Opel "Laubfrosch" and Manta, Ford 12M, 15M and 20M, BMW Isetta and BMW 205/502, the legendary "Ponton" Mercedes of the W120 series, Mercedes SL, BMW Z8, ... – the list of legends on wheels using Huf know-how is long.
Automotive supplier Huf: Success story started with keys and locks for furniture
Now as then, the automotive supplier Huf is setting trends in the automotive industry as an innovation driver and offers its customers products increasing comfort and security, with high theft protection, very good durability and individual design. This is evident, for example, in modern access solutions such as remote keys, Phone as a Key and the new Light Touch Emblem, flush door handles, electronic steering column locks or the smart car key of the future featuring UWB, BLE and NFC.
There are two things at the top of any enthusiastic driver’s wish list: get in and set off. Not many people know that Huf has been involved in shaping that special moment of getting into the car for a century. In 1920, Huf employed its locking systems for cars for the first time, opening the door to a successful future in the automotive industry. Over the next more than 100 years, the locks and fittings factory in Velbert, a city at the edge of the German Ruhr region, evolved into a globally positioned company with more than 7,000 employees.
From furniture to cars: The first car locks and door handles from Huf could not deny their origin – here is a catalogue from the late 1920s.
Huf advertisement dating from 1928.
Today, Huf supplies almost all automotive manufacturers worldwide and is the leading specialist for secure car access and authorization. The way to success: always focusing on customers and their needs while playing a key role in shaping the market for secure car access and authorization systems.
On June 17, 1908, Ernst Hülsbeck and August Fürst founded Hülsbeck & Fürst GmbH and moved into a 200-square-meter workshop in the center of Velbert. Here, the small company made locks and keys for the furniture industry – from huge wall closets to sophisticated glass cabinets. Huf quickly established a reputation as a reliable supplier of high-quality products and rapidly developed a sound customer base. In 1911, the company moved into the first factory of its own with 25 employees. A 450-square-meter new building provided capacity for further orders in the spring of 1920. However, these orders no longer came from the furniture industry alone.
Huf is in the middle of the rise of the automobile
Ernst Hülsbeck and August Fürst identified the need for secure locks for the automobile as an up-and-coming means of transportation. It was a logical step to offer them to the inventor of the automobile directly: In 1920, Mercedes was looking for a luxurious lock that would satisfy the demanding customers for its high-end vehicles built by hand in small series production. Huf met the requirements with a high-quality lock that impressed with its great reliability, thus laying the foundation for a fruitful cooperation with Mercedes that has lasted for more than 100 years now.
In the early 1920s, Huf was still able to fulfill the orders for Mercedes with the same machines that were also used to make locks for furniture. But demand soon started to increase. When Henry Ford invented the assembly line, he made cars affordable to broader social classes. Other manufacturers followed quickly. Opel was the first German manufacturer to take up the example set by the Americans: The Opel 4 PS, affectionately called “tree frog” because of its green paintwork, was the first German car to roll off an assembly line in 1924, presenting suppliers with the challenge of processing large orders in a short space of time.
Huf supplied all Ford models in Germany from 1931 onwards
Huf applied its experience in the furniture industry, which the company had been supplying with large volumes since its foundation. Huf soon made a name for itself as a reliable partner and accompanied the rapidly progressing motorization of the country. In 1931, the Ford Motor Company opened up its first European plant in the Niehl district of Cologne and commissioned Huf to develop new products.
From then on, Huf provided not only locking systems for all Ford models, but also made lettering, emblems, and trim strips for all of the brand’s German models. As a lock specialist, Huf also supplied the Volkswagen plant, founded in 1938, and thus became the leading supplier in this area in the 1930s. The Second World War brought this development to a sudden end. Huf was forced to convert its production to war materials.
The millionth VW Beetle fitted with door handles from Huf
In spite of the dismantling by the victorious countries, Huf quickly got back on track after the Second World War and supplied almost all locking systems, door handles and fittings to Volkswagen, Ford, Daimler-Benz, and Opel. In 1955, the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line. Like the Beetles before, this anniversary car was also equipped with door handles from Huf. A true highlight in the Huf history. Huf also supplied other iconic vehicles of the 1950s, such as the BMW Isetta and the luxurious BMW 205/502, the first of the brand’s vehicles to cause a sensation with its powerful eight-cylinder engine.
Daimler-Benz also continued to rely on quality products from Huf. One example is the famous Mercedes 180 D (W 120): The sedan was the brand’s first high volume car model with a unibody construction and diesel engine. As a taxi, this model would become a familiar sight on the streets in post-war Germany just like the Beetle. For decades, almost every taxi driver had a Huf key in the pocket and pulled on a Huf handle to open the door to the passenger compartment for the guests.
From mass vehicle to luxury class: For more than 100 years Huf has been enriching cars with its products, including icons like the VW beetle.
Everything in hand: external door handle with key for the VW Beetle.
Touched a million times: the door handle of the Mercedes W180. As the Mercedes was particularly popular with taxi drivers, it was omnipresent in the streetscape of the 1950s.
Huf is setting the general standard with the "steering-ignition-starter lock”
On the occasion of the company’s 50th anniversary in 1958, Huf produced 200,000 door handles and over 100,000 locking systems each per month, having become the leading provider of vehicle access systems. Over the previous 50 years, Huf had set numerous standards for vehicle access and played an active part in shaping its development and would continue to do so in the future.
Under the German Road Traffic Regulations, a new law took effect on January 1, 1962: All cars that were built as from this date had to be equipped with a new anti-theft device, which was known as the steering-ignition-starter lock (steering column lock). Huf had already pioneered this combination and launched it two years earlier, and played an active part in shaping its further development. Huf had introduced the “block steering”, “prevent ignition,” and “switch starter on/off” functions, thus setting the general standard.
Solid constant in the history of Huf: colorful product variety for individual customer requests
Bell-bottoms, mini-skirts, and loud colors – it was not only the young who abandoned the etiquette of the previous generation in the 1960s. One of the trend setters of this era was the Opel Manta, which Huf supplied with fittings such as the “Opel lightning bolt” and the model logo. What was special about these add-on parts was that they were among the first chromium-plated plastic parts on a vehicle.
Huf had impressed its customers with high-quality metal fitting parts with a durable high-gloss chrome finish since the 1930s. At the end of the 1960s, manufacturers wanted to reduce costs and demanded cheaper plastic parts that were still to impress customers with their sparkling chrome luster. Thanks to its many years of experience, Huf met this challenge and remained the first port of call for the manufacturers. By 1975, Huf was already receiving so many customer requests for chromium-plated plastic parts that the company commissioned separate equipment for pre-treating plastic – another milestone in Huf-history.
In terms of the emblems, things got very colorful. Manufacturers offered their vehicles in different color variants. Door handles painted the same color as the car were in high demand from the 1980s. Huf made a start for Mercedes, at first with a manually painted large grip plate. In 1986, Opel followed this trend with the new Omega. The automotive manufacturer from Rüsselsheim commissioned Huf to paint the door handles in 19 different color variants. In order to deliver the customary high level of quality even with large unit figures, Huf established the first automated paint shop of its own in 1985 and laid the foundation for the company’s outstanding painting expertise. Today, Huf is the leading automotive supplier of painted door handles and operates highly-automated painting lines at its global sites.
Apart from lock sets and car keys, the Huf product portfolio included emblems and trims at a very early stage.
Volkswagen and Opel, for example, had their brand logos made by Huf.
Patented security key: Huf revolutionizes secure car access
As well as continuously expanding its manufacturing expertise, Huf has constantly set milestones with regard to safety and functionality throughout its history. In the mid-1970s, Huf introduced the new double-groove key, revolutionizing protection against theft. Instead of the conventional key bit, keys with a double-groove system featured grooves that were milled into the flat sides of the key blank. These two grooves were thus laterally reversed, making it impossible to simply place a key blank on top and file a copy, as was done with conventional key bits.
The new locking cylinder further increased the level of protection against theft: With the double-groove system, the number of guards lockings, i.e. the little pins that are inserted into the notches on the key, also had to be increased. This increased the number of locking variants to millions, making it virtually impossible to make a copy of the key.
Daimler-Benz AG was the first customer to buy this new safety key, on which Huf held a patent, and also used other Huf innovations to secure the valuable vehicles, such as the first locking cylinder with a free-wheeling mechanism that, if unauthorized persons exerted force, calmly rotated without allowing access.
Since decades, Huf is represented in almost every type of vehicle in the world.
Car enthusiasts take note: Since the 1970s, VW GTI and VW Scirocco have been delighting sporty drivers. With the right key from Huf including torch, they kept an overview at all times of the day and night, even outside the car.
Taxi drivers in London use this key to open their Black Cabs. Thanks to passive entry technology, the key can remain in the trouser pocket.
Better safe than sorry: the clever infrared key for the Mercedes SL comes from automotive supplier Huf
Huf introduced a particularly trend-setting innovation in 1989: The Mercedes SL (R 129) was the first of the brand’s models that could be opened with a remote control by pressing a button on the car key. Huf was ahead of the competition even then, and presented Mercedes the safest model on the market with the infrared key. While the key signals of competitors’ products could be intercepted with the simplest means and used to open the car, Huf had developed a system that changed the signals every time the key was actuated.
Since the 1990s, the magic word for this feature has been “mechatronics”. The combination of precision mechanics and electronics has changed the way that passengers open and get into a car. The new electronics provided the possibility to connect different vehicle components. Huf took on a leading role in advancing this development. Soon, side doors, trunk lids, as well as side windows and sliding sun roofs could be opened and closed remotely.
The infrared key of the 1989 Mercedes SL also came from Huf and was the most secure system on the market. Special feature: After each actuation, the signals of the key changed. This made it extremely difficult for thieves.
Automotive innovations from Huf: electronic car door handle, passive entry and Phone as a Key
Further innovations followed, for example the electronic car door handle that detected the key within a certain radius around the vehicle and unlocked the doors automatically. Another new development from Huf: Thanks to a transponder integrated into the car key, the electronic solution detected the car key inside the vehicle, making it possible to start the vehicle just by pressing the engine start button next to the steering wheel.
At the turn of the century, Huf set new standards for entering the vehicle in a comfortable and safe way and for starting the engine. Drivers benefited from the mechatronics in the key fob that operated unnotedly further systems in the background. Huf named this array of functions Passive Entry and Passive Start, or PEPS for short. Car buyers came to know and appreciate the enormous added value of this system under illustrious product names like Keyless-Go (Mercedes) and Comfort Access (BMW).
What started in the luxury class at the beginning of the century, can now be found to varying degrees in every compact car. Whether it is a luxury limousine or a sporty little city car, it comes down to the interaction between mechanical and electronic solutions that ensure that the vehicle is protected even more reliably against burglary and theft while the level of comfort is increased.
High positioning accuracy, contactless car access and digital key management with a smartphone – Phone as a Key from Huf offers numerous advantages for the mobility of the future.
In an emergency situation, Smart Emergency Access from Huf helps: Once the main control unit has detected an accident, it sends a signal to Smart Emergency Access. This enables access to a pull strap and establishes mechanical connection to the door lock.
Innovation made by Huf: The brand emblem of the respective car manufacturer conceals new functionalities such as individual light effects that orchestrate the user's approach to the vehicle and thus improve user guidance.
Secure access and protection combined with an attractive haptics and great functionality: that is what Huf has provided to car manufacturers for more than 100 years. Today, Huf is the global market leader for exterior car door handles and lock sets and offers integrated car access and authorization systems.
What started back in 1920 with a high-quality mechanical car lock, is today being continued by Huf in the digital world. The UWB-based Phone as a Key solutions from Huf allow that car access and authorization can be digitally assigned and vehicle functions can be controlled conveniently via smartphone. The multiple benefits of Phone as a Key have also convinced a well-known European car manufacturer: It will equip the models of its global brands with the digital key system from Huf from 2025 onwards. This makes Huf one of the first suppliers to go into series production with a UWB-based Phone as a Key.
With a spirit of innovation and advanced technical know-how, Huf consistently sets new standards in secure car access and authorization systems. Latest examples: The clever Smart Emergency Access system and the patented Light Touch Emblem.
Digitalization, e-mobility, and autonomous driving: Huf is also accompanying the automotive industry in the latest trends, by providing innovative systems for secure and comfortable car access. The automotive supplier has stayed true to this maxim for more than 100 years.
Sustainability at the automotive supplier Huf: Environmental campaign for even more resource protection
The goal is clear, the course has been set: Automotive supplier Huf will be climate-neutral by 2030 at the latest. Sustainability has long been a key issue at Huf, and the entire company is already consistently geared towards CO2 reduction. The step-by-step reduction of energy consumption is an essential element for this – in addition to the significant increase in the share of renewable energies.
Huf Brazil – automotive supplier in Atibaia
Huf Brazil is located in Atibaia just outside Sao Paulo at a hub of the South American automotive industry. Since more than 25 years, the automotive supplier is the reliable partner for many international customers when it comes to lock sets, remote keys and modern door handle systems.
Huf Portuguesa – automotive supplier in Tondela Portugal
Since 1991, Huf Portuguesa has supplied equipment, including lock sets, passive entry keys, electronic and mechanical steering column locks as well as door handles for more than 100 million cars. High-profile automotive customers value the plant’s manufacturing expertise and quality. Huf Portuguesa has traditionally been among the most attractive employers in the Viseu region.
Huf Compliance – new Code of Conduct and whistleblower system
Huf has realigned its Compliance Management System. How we behave towards customers, suppliers, colleagues and all other people is set out in the new Huf Code of Conduct. Our Group Compliance Officer and the Compliance Managers at our sites are the first point of contact for questions and reports. To report completely anonymously use the Huf whistleblower system.
Lean Management-Workshop and Kaizen training at Huf Portuguesa
With the Huf Production System (HPS) based on a holistic view of production, Huf has established a highly effective approach that improves the worldwide standardization of processes, makes production more efficient, and enables continuous improvement on a global scale. HPS workshops as recently organized at Huf Portuguesa mark the start of the standardization of Kaizen events.
Solar energy at Huf Spain: Solar power for sustainable environmental protection
By using solar energy, Huf Espana is setting a sustainable example of consistent environmental protection. The site in El Burgo de Osma generates "green" energy with the power of the sun. With more than 3,200 solar modules and an annual capacity of 2,100 MWh, the solar power plant reduces the company's carbon footprint and thus makes an important contribution to achieving its corporate goals.
Sustainability Huf India: Solar panels and water treatment
A consistent approach to sustainability, improved environmental protection at reduced cost: With a lot of creativity Huf sites around the globe are working to realize the corporate target of CO2 neutrality by 2030 and thus fulfill the company’s core value of acting sustainably in every respect.
Lean management training to become certified expert
No rocket science, but an almost magic formula to turn a good company into an excellent one: lean management. The good news: you can learn to do the magic. Within the comprehensive lean management training concept at Huf, candidates work hard to become certified lean management experts.
Huf Romania S.R.L. in Arad and Timisoara at automotive hotspot
Huf Romania S.R.L is continuously growing: in December 2019, the employees in Timisoara moved into their new home in the modern ISHO Campus, and in 2021 the plant in Arad was expanded. Two examples of the steady expansion of locations in Romania, which Huf will continue to drive forward in the coming years.