PARIS - Visteon's purchase of Plastic Omnium's interior equipment division confirmed the increasing dominance of North American companies among the top global auto interior suppliers.
Aside from French groups Sommer-Allibert and Faurecia, such companies as Delphi, Visteon, Johnson Controls, Lear, Magna and Textron now control most of the worldwide interiors market.
Plastic Omnium received FF3 billion ($490 million) for the sale, which allows it to write-off its FF2.1 billion debt and concentrate on its other automotive businesses - plastic exterior parts and fuel tanks.
Visteon, on the other hand, boosts its share of the European supplier market, and its non-Ford contracts, especially cockpits. All three had been seen as vital future growth areas for the Ford subsidiary.
Plastic Omnium's interior equipment division was once the company's most profitable business. With sales of FF2.8 billion in 1998, the division has 3,700 employees, 13 plants in France, Italy, the UK and Spain, and a modern technical center near Lille, northern France.
But Jean Burelle, Plastic Omnium's chairman and main shareholder, said the interiors operation had been difficult to expand.
'We have strong positions with Renault, PSA and Fiat. But our customer basis was very low in Germany and we had nothing in the USA,' he said. 'Although we make two million dashboards a year, our market share is only 1 percent in a FF300 billion global market. In front of us, there are giants such as Delphi, Lear and Johnson Controls.'
Burelle said its other auto supply businesses would form the basis of a strong company. 'We are among the three leading global players in fuel tanks, and we are the European co-leader in exterior parts with Peguform,' he said.
Visteon President Craig Muhlhauser praised Plastic Omnium Managing Director Jo'l Coque. 'He is an outstanding leader, with a track record of bringing profitability and growth,' said Muhlhauser.
Coque's new title will be managing director, Visteon Interior Systems for Europe and South America.
Coque said Plastic Omnium 'chose' Visteon from among competing offers. 'Among all the companies I've talked to, Visteon is the one with the largest portfolio of technologies in the cockpit,' he said.
Visteon views Europe as an opportunity to grow, Muhlhauser said. Plastic Omnium gives Visteon access to the Iberian peninsula, where 2.8 million vehicles a year are manufactured.
Muhlhauser predicts 40 percent of all Visteon business in Europe would be non-Ford by 2003.
According to Visteon, its European sales will increase in 1999 by 17 percent to $3.1 billion (1998 global sales were $17.8 billion). Sales outside Ford will grow from 8 to 11 percent globally, and from 7 to 21 percent in Europe.
'This is a most significant opportunity to strengthen our cockpit business,' said Steve Delaney, Visteon's vice president for interior and exterior systems. 'We'll make 7 million cockpits a year, including 1 million fully equipped, which gives us a 15 percent global market share.'
With its interiors unit sold to Visteon, Plastic Omnium's leading customer is now General Motors, with 31 percent of its FF7 billion 1999 pro-forma automotive sales.