Jean-Michel Elter is CEO of French supplier Sommer Allibert Industrie (SAI). Automotive News Europe's Stephane Farhi asked him about SAI's Japanese ambitions, and the rise of modules in the auto supply business.
SAI revenues increased by 10.6 percent in 1999. Where did the growth come from?
Our operations went well in France, Spain and Mexico. We benefited from new programs, like the Volkswagen Polo, and the Skoda Fabia in the Czech Republic. Despite the crunch of the Brazilian market, our plant in Curitiba continued its ramp up.
On the whole, revenues from components, and research and development grew. Regarding modules, we went through a slow period, mainly because manufacturing of the Polo moved from Wolfsburg to Pamplona. In 2000, the modules business will be stronger.
What are your prospects for 2000?
We will strengthen our presence outside Europe by following our traditional customers. Generally speaking, in North America, we want to expand not only with European carmakers but also with American ones. We want to have 25 percent of our sales in North America, instead of 10 percent today.
We'll look for more business with Volkswagen in Mexico. In the US, we supply the dashboard, the door panels and the trunk interior trim for the BMW X5 sport-utility. We started to provide door panels to GM last year, and we plan to start with dashboards this year. We'll try to increase our business with Ford.
What contracts do you have with Ford?
Ford chose us to supply the door panels for its B platform (small cars). For the C platform (lower-medium vehicles) we have been accepted to do the engineering for the cockpit. Ford even gave us a technology award for the ideas we brought to the concept of the new C platform cockpit.
Who are your main customers?
Volkswagen has 27.8 percent of our sales. Second is Ford/Volvo with 18.7 percent. Then come Renault/Nissan (15.5 percent), followed by PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, DaimlerChrysler, BMW, General Motors, and Toyota.
What's your modules strategy?
We want to be a leader in interior vehicle modules: cockpits, doors, acoustic units. To do so, we must stand at the leading edge in the architecture and packaging of these modules. We'll also be very active in the acoustic field: we've just created a dedicated technical center in Germany. Safety is another concern.
The management of interfaces between several modules will become more and more complex with regard to electronics and issues like safety.
How is your relationship with Japanese auto companies?
We have long relationship with Japanese carmakers like Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Mazda. The Renault-Nissan alliance is an opportunity first, to follow Renault into Japan and to offer Nissan the same research and development capability that we have with Renault; and second, to develop some components for other Japanese carmakers.
We want FF1 billion (A1.5 billion) sales with Japanese carmakers on a global scale. In Europe we work for Nissan, Toyota, and Mitsubishi through NedCar.
As a direct result of the Renault-Nissan alliance, we are developing the dashboard of the next Primera due to be launched in 2001 and we'll manufacture it in the UK.
With (Japanese plastics supplier) Inoac, we'll have two joint ventures, one for research and development and marketing and sales, another 50/50 for manufacturing in Japan.
Will Sommer Allibert be part of the industry consolidation?
Sommer Allibert does not need to be taken over or to merge with somebody. A hostile bid cannot work in our case because our capital is controlled. But more importantly, it's impossible because our customers, like Volkswagen, Mercedes, Ford and Renault, would react to any hostile bid.