Interior modules - particularly cockpits - form one of the fastest growth markets in the European auto supplier industry.
Nearly 1 million cockpit modules will be produced in Europe this year, up from virtually none in 1995.
Cockpits are among the most valuable modules, with unit values of over $1,000, depending on specification. Typically they include dashboard, instrumentation, wiring, heating and ventilation systems - and frequently steering wheels and control pedals.
Four suppliers are currently producing cockpit modules. They are:
Mannesmann VDO, which supplies cockpits to Volkswagen, Seat and DaimlerChrysler's Micro Compact Car, maker of the Smart
SAS, a joint venture between Sommer Allibert and Siemens
Lear, which expanded its presence in the sector through the acquisition of Borealis of Sweden in 1996, and UT Automotive earlier this year
Visteon, which produces cockpits for, among others, Ford
Delphi just won a major contract to supply cockpits to GM. See Page 14.
Others moving into the market include Behr, Bosch, Faurecia, JCI, Valeo and Plastic Omnium.
'More and more modules are starting to be developed,' said Lear President Robert Rossiter. 'Out-sourcing continues. We have been awarded two projects with a major customer to supply complete driving units - the instrument panel and everything that goes with it.'
Suppliers are being given more responsibility for the design, development and testing of car interiors - particularly for niche vehicles.
'Our customers are increasingly demanding modularization and outsourcing development responsibility,' said Peter Grafoner, chairman and chief executive of Mannesman VDO.
Kevin Mann, of market analyst CSM Europe, said interiors 'must become more of a brand within
'Innovative but simple interiors like the Alfa 156 will become more commonplace,' he said, 'The consumer demands originality which has been lost in the last few years.'
It's not just cockpit modules which are driving the rise in outsourcing of interior modules. Faurecia chief executive Daniel Dewavrin expects to see a rapid increase in the level of outsourcing of door modules to Tier 1 suppliers over the next few years.
Outsourced door modules are already fitted to the Volkswagen Golf and Passat and the new Volvo S80.
They will also be fitted to the Ford Focus when the car gets its first facelift.
Major suppliers competing for door module business include Delphi, JCI, Lear, Sommer Allibert, Valeo and Visteon, as well as door mechanism specialists such as Brose and Meritor.
Demand for overhead systems -incorporating sophisticated new electronics - is also expected to rise rapidly in Europe over the next few years.
Mann of CSM Europe sees the integration of electronics as a critical issue. 'As new technology develops so costs in these areas will tumble,' he said.