COBURG, Germany - Brose KG vows to retain 50 percent of the global door-module market in the next decade, despite increasing competition from major groups like Delphi Automotive Systems, Johnson Controls, Lear and Valeo.
New business with the Volkswagen Group - already Brose's biggest customer - will drive the growth of the Coburg, Germany-based supplier.
European companies lead the market for door modules, with 69 percent of 1999's estimated global volume of 11 million units. The market is growing rapidly.
Family-owned Brose has traditionally been a major supplier of window regulators and seat adjusters to the European auto industry.
It began expanding its window regulator business into door modules in the 1980s.
Brose's big breakthrough came when Volkswagen decided to use door modules in the Passat. Production started in 1997, and the company's door-module business almost doubled the following year.
The Volkswagen group is Brose's biggest customer for door modules. 'In the very near future all Volkswagen, Skoda and Seat vehicles will be equipped with Brose door concepts,' said Kurt Sauernheimer, head of Brose's door-module business unit.
Brose also supplies door modules to Renault, Rover, and Volvo.
Door modules will account for 30 percent of Brose's expected sales of DM2.4 billion (euro 1.2 billion) in 1999. The company is presently working on nine new door projects with customers.
The number of Brose employees in door-module development is set to grow from 100 in 1998 to around 180 in 1999.
'Every major carmaker is interested in door modules,' said Sauernheimer. 'The main question is whether their internal structures are ready. The key is that the assembly has to be cheaper and better than existing approaches.'
Savings vary according to the processes, materials and the level of integration already in place in a plant, said Sauernheimer. He cites as an example a recent study undertaken by Brose for an unnamed carmaker. Brose estimated that a move to door modules could produce savings of between 4 percent and 10 percent.
Door modules require an investment of between DM8 million-DM12 million to develop, without the cost of tooling or facilities, says Sauernheimer.
The growth of the business and a desire to focus more clearly on the product and its customers led Brose to create a separate business unit for the sector at the beginning of the year.
The company has also launched a major investment program. It plans to invest DM45 million in its door-module business in 1999, including expansion of its German research and development center at Hallstadt, near Bamberg.
In total, about 30 suppliers are involved in supplying parts for a typical door module. Sauernheimer says that Brose, looks for partners which can make major contributions on the development side, and which can adjust their processes to the demands of the just-in-time sequence of the door modules.
Door modules for the VW Golf, for example, are delivered three hours after receipt of an order. As many as 200 variants are possible.
Sixty percent of the components in a door are attached to the carrier plate, including printed circuits, door locks, speakers and airbags. The carrier plates are sealed to the outer door and are divided into 'wet' and 'dry' chambers, which saves money on waterproofing. Mounting electrical and electronic components in the 'dry' chamber also increases reliability, says Sauernheimer.
Most of Brose's door modules are based on pressed-metal plates, but Brose can be flexible about the technology, said Sauernheimer.
Brose has also developed other door-module concepts, for example modules based on plastic carrier plates or attached to the interior trim. But Sauernheimer says that although plastic can be more easily formed than metal, it is several times more expensive per kilo and less suitable for high-volume production.
Sauernheimer does not believe that many door modules will use the interior trim as a carrier for mechanical parts such as window regulators or locks. There would be a high scrap rate because of the interior trim's sensitivity to handling.
Basing the module on interior trim also poses major mechanical and design restrictions, said Sauernheimer.
'The right module concept depends on customer needs and the body and door concept,' he said.
The company plans to expand its presence overseas, particularly in North and South America. It opened a Detroit sales office in 1993.
At first it concentrated on window regulators, but it has recently added door-module development capability.
Brose has two plants in Mexico, one supplying Volkswagen and the other supplying window regulators to the USA.
It also opened a plant in Brazil at the end of 1998.
Brose's total sales in North and South America are expected to reach between $100 million and $120 million in 2000.