THE TREND toward modular assembly is becoming 'overwhelming,' according to Noel Goutard, president of Valeo.
'Frankly, this is one of the surprises of 1998,' said Goutard at the Paris auto show.
'We thought for a long time that car manufacturers ... would want to keep assembly, including modular assembly, for themselves. But their staff seem to ignore that.'
Valeo showed four module concepts on its stand at the show: a front-end, a door module, a cockpit developed with Plastic Omnium, and a 'fifth door' module.
'We are convinced that there is a real value opportunity for cost, weight and volume reductions,' said Bernard de Monseignat, Valeo senior vice president for international affairs.
The front-end is a module 'predestined for us,' he added.
Valeo's front-end module at the show included radiator, lighting, condenser and fan, but excluded the bumper.
'We produce more than 60 percent of the value of this module -in some cases 80 percent,' said de Monseignat.
That know-how equips Valeo to think radically about the construction of the module, he said, because 'if you want to propose really innovative concepts you must be able to redefine the product.'
The advantages of designing the front-end as a unit include weight savings, ease of assembly and
disassembly, and cost savings of about a third compared with traditional front-ends, said de Monseignat.
Valeo has orders that will amount to one million front-end modules a year, with shipments beginning in 2002-03. One contract covers 800,000 cars a year.
Valeo's cockpit module has been developed in a 50-50 joint-venture with Plastic Omnium, called Plastic Omnium Valeo Interiors.
The two partners' content is 60 to 70 percent of the complete module. Their components include the instrument panel, switches, climate control system, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and air ducts.
The door module consists of the interior devices without soft trim or door frame. For that, Valeo produces locks, latches, electronics and electric motors.
A separate module destined for the center of a rear hatch adds wipers and lighting to the side door module concept.
In spite of its deep knowledge of the technical features of its modules, Valeo will still have to invest and learn some new skills.
'I want to see to it that modules make money,' said Goutard. 'The problem is that until now we had a return on capital employed by selling parts directly and quickly to the car manufacturers.
'Now, with modules, you have to set up a dedicated plant close to the supplier company line, stock the part, and have to ability to ship it to the customer.
'You have to find a return on the working capital involved, and a return for the assembly equipment and dedicated plants.'