PARIS - UT Automotive chose its top international officer to try to make its interior business as global as its wiring business.
Richard Sloan, who doubled the size of UT Automotive's wiring business in Europe since arriving five years ago, has been transferred to Detroit to take over interior systems.
'You'll notice we renamed it from Interior Systems of America to Interior Systems International,' said Sloan. 'The assignment is to develop the strategies to globalize the business, and integrate it with the operating units.'
UTA President Scott Greer has asked his company to grow 15 percent annually. Volker Heuzeroth is Sloan's hand-picked successor as president of UT Automotive's European operations. 'He's a stunning leader,' said Sloan. 'I'm confident that the business growth will continue.' He said he expects the wiring business in Europe to grow from $950 million last year to $1.6 billion by 2003.
Sloan, 59, is moving to take over UT Automotive's only product division. The wiring business is sold by regional sales companies in Asia, North America and Europe. Ultimately, he said, his job is to blend Interior Systems International into that system.
'We are of the strong opinion that we operate better geographically,' said Sloan.
The interior challenge
UT Automotive's interior business is worth $600 million a year, virtually all of it in the USA. Chrysler, General Motors, Toyota and Honda are the leading customers. UT Automotive is small compared with Lear, Johnson Controls Inc. or Magna International, but the company has factories making headliners, dashboards and other trim.
Sloan is replacing Ed Northern, who was hired in 1996 to whip the division into shape, and then let go to make room for Sloan.
'There was clearly a point when they changed so rapidly there was a loss of control and there were some problems with launches,' said Sloan. 'But I'm impressed with the people there. We will come back.'
Sloan's job is to lead his staff of 3,800 to double their interiors business within five years.
Growth will come from international expansion and new, higher-value products.
'We have plans to aggressively expand,' Sloan said. 'Over time, we'd like European business to be the same size as North America. The markets are the same size.'
At the moment there are no plans to expand by acquisition in Europe, said Sloan. 'What we would probably do is partner.'
He said UT Automotive envisions new products like prewired dashboards and headliners, which add value to the core wiring business.
One such product shown last autumn is a minivan interior wired with microphones and a microprocessor that amplifies conversation between front and rear passengers so the driver need not shout or turn eyes away from the road.
Such products are likely to show up in the USA first.
In Europe, UT Automotive makes everything it sells, mainly wiring and electric motors and switches. Europe represents 30 percent of UT Automotive's $3.1 billion business.
Although 1997 sales results in Europe are unchanged from last year, this is a result of currency exchange rates. Sloan said that at 1996 exchange rates, European business was worth $1.2 billion.
The European auto market is growing much slower than UT Automotive's business.
'Clearly, our growth is not going to be from automotive unit sales growth,' said Sloan. 'Growth is achieved by improving penetration, position. The idea is to really service the customers we have. If you're improperly focused, you lose the best opportunities.'
UT Automotive customers include almost everybody except Volkswagen and Daimler-Benz. The only significant acquisition in Sloan's era was the automotive electronics business of Loewe Opta GmbH, in Germany, which added a customer base at BMW and manufacturing capacity in Germany.
UT Automotive has factories open or under construction in Portugal, Poland, Tunisia and Hungary.