The rapid consolidation of the interior supply business is following the move toward modular supply.
Cockpits and doors are the areas where automakers and suppliers are moving rapidly toward modules. Headliners are beginning to go modular. As the big interior suppliers bring together the technology and manufacturing base to provide modules, smaller companies are absorbed.
When Johnson Controls Inc. bought the Becker Group, it put JCI ahead of rivals Lear Corp. and Magna on instrument panels. On door trim, it brought JCI from 0.4 percent of the market to about 10 percent, on a level with Lear. And in headliners, where it had the European lead, it added Becker's leading-edge technology.
The interior supply business has been the center of acquisition activity for the past three years. With six large automakers and 15 countries, Europe was crowded with small suppliers a few years ago. Compared with North America, it still is.
Instrument panels provide an excellent example.
SAI Automotive AG is the market leader, with over 20 percent of the market in 1997, according to research firm CSM Europe. Becker Group Europe was No. 3 with a share of 10.2 percent in 1997, just behind Plastic Omnium/Reydel. However, there are still more than 20 competitors in this segment, and five vehicle manufacturers have in-house operations.
Headliners are beginning to move in the same direction.
A number of small acquisitions have taken place in the past year, and more could follow quickly. The market leaders are Irausa of Spain and JCI, mostly through the business acquired with Roth Freres.
Becker was a significant acquisition because it is extremely strong in modules. As a smaller company, it had built alliances with others to get a common module to the market. Becker has invested more than 5 percent of its sales in research and development.
The r&d and teamwork has put Becker at the head of a consortium supplying Micro Compact Car's Smart car with high-tech headliner modules. Becker is building a complete headliner module for Volvo's new large car that includes sun-visors, handgrips, interior cabling and high central brake light.
Becker is developing the instrument panel and door trim for the new C-class and the door trim for the S-class for Mercedes-Benz. Becker also developed the door panels for the new Clio and the new Laguna for Renault; the instrument panels on the A6 and A8 for Audi; and the door trim for BMW's 8, 7 and 5 series.
And late last year, Becker started working on cockpit modules with leading German air-conditioning supplier Behr.