BERLIN - Renault's purchasing chief says the company's new alliance with Nissan creates an enormous opportunity for European parts suppliers.
Several of Renault's French suppliers are moving quickly to take advantage of the situation. Most are virtually absent from Japan, where carmakers have relied on keiretsu partners.
'There are huge opportunities for European suppliers to work in Japan with Nissan,' said Jean-Baptiste Duzan, Renault's senior vice president of purchasing, at the Automotive News Europe Congress here.
Like other Japanese car groups, Nissan has traditionally picked suppliers from among its affiliates or subsidiaries. But that is expected to change now that Renault has acquired 38 percent of the company .
'Nissan has not been open enough in the past,' said Duzan.
Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's new chief operating officer, said here that while Nissan offers manufacturing and engineering know-how, 'Renault has more to bring to Nissan in purchasing.'
He said Nissan's purchasing costs in Europe were 10 to 15 percent higher than Renault's.
French suppliers' exports to Japan totaled euro 81 million ($85 million) in 1998. That was 19.6 percent higher than the previous year, but represented less than 1 percent of total French supplier exports.
Several Renault suppliers are examining opportunities in Japan, Asia, the USA and Europe. The first prospects should come from the replacement for the Nissan Micra and Renault Clio superminis, due around 2003. The two cars will be based on the same platform.
'We will go to common platforms, which means common suppliers,' said Duzan. 'However, these suppliers might be different in Europe and in Japan.'
Patrick de Bellescize, marketing vice president at Faurecia, said Renault and Nissan are currently discussing seat specifications for the Clio-Micra platform. Faurecia makes seats, exhaust systems and plastic parts.
It will supply the rear seats of the Nissan Tino compact minivan to be built at Nissan Iberica in Barcelona, Spain, starting next year. Its plant in Flers, France, also exports seat slides to Japan for Nissan and Daihatsu.
Nissan has two seating suppliers in Japan. The main one is Ikeda Bussan. Nissan owns 38 percent of Ikeda Bussan and is practically its only customer. The other is Tachi-S, which also supplies Honda, Mitsubishi and Toyota.
French steel maker Usinor is also focusing on prospects in Japan and Asia.
'We have always followed Renault,' said Michel Tuchman, head of business development for Usinor Automotive, a newly-created unit inside the company. In Brazil, Usinor owns a stake in a joint venture that supplies stamped parts to Renault's Curitiba plant.
Usinor Automotive's main customers are Renault and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen. But Usinor is also Nissan's main steel vendor in Europe, supplying both the Barcelona and Sunderland, England, assembly plants.
Usinor has only small operations in Asia, mainly in Thailand. 'We are watching what happens with much interest,' said Tuchman.
Valeo and Michelin, France's two biggest automotive suppliers, are also expected to expand in Japan. Valeo chairman No'l Goutard was in Japan last month scouting opportunities. A spokesman said the supplier is 'interested in setting up an industrial operation in Japan.'
Japanese analysts have said that lighting specialist Ichikoh is a likely acquisition target for Valeo. Ichikoh is 20.6 percent owned by Nissan and 9 percent by Toyota. It controls 30 percent of the Japanese automotive lighting market.
Meanwhile, Michelin is expected to react to Goodyear's takeover of Sumitomo last February. Rumors of merger or takeover talks between Michelin and Yokohama Rubber and Toyo Tire have been denied by Michelin. However, with only 8 percent of its worldwide sales in Asia, Michelin is not expected to remain idle.