Acquisitions will play an important part in growing Visteon's business in Europe
'We are trying to fill some of our product gaps,' says Steve Sharpe, Visteon's marketing director for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India. 'At the same time, we will be acquiring the route to the carmakers and a customer base that's already in place.'
Acquisitions are 'one of the portfolio of things that you need to do to get yourself into the marketplace as fast as possible.'
Visteon has quadrupled its European sales force since the company was renamed last September. The new name accompanied a new focus on winning customers outside parent company Ford.
Visteon has opened a new customer support center in Wolfsburg, Germany, and will open a second in Coventry, UK, later this year. Further customer centers are planned for Paris and Turin.
The centers are only a part of the emphasis on sales and winning new customers. Another element is the so-called Hunting Teams. To secure new customers, Visteon's sales teams need to understand the company's competitors and their products.
'When we walk into a customer, not only do we need to understand our product,' says Sharpe, 'we also need to have taken their current product and the components that make up their product, to have torn them down, reverse-engineered them and made sure we fully understand our advantages versus their current supply base.'
In Europe, says Sharpe, manufacturers 'have very close relationships with their supply base. Quite frankly, when you go and present to a carmaker you need to offer a significant price or cost reduction versus their incumbent supplier or a significant improvement in technology.'
Areas where Visteon is winning customer interest include its passive anti theft system, voice-activated controls, cockpits and air conditioning.
Visteon is a major player in the European air conditioning market, which has grown rapidly.
Last year, 48 percent of Fords built in Europe were fitted with air conditioning, compared with just 35 percent in 1996.
Although Visteon sees its future as a Tier 1 supplier, with its main strength in systems integration and module assembly, the company is also seeking Tier 2 business. The reason: to open doors to new customers.
'Major manufacturers aren't going to suddenly give you great chunks of the system overnight when you're a relative newcomer to their supply base,' says Sharpe. 'So the only way really is to build their confidence by demonstrating our technology and supplying components first of all as a Tier 2 supplier, or directly to the carmaker.'
Visteon's biggest new component contract is with Ford subsidiary Jaguar, but the company has also won new business from Daewoo and Toyota in Europe in the past year.
'We're very well matched with Daewoo in terms of our geographical location, with plants in eastern Europe,' says Sharpe. 'Our UK base allows us to liaise with their technical design center in Worthing as well.'