US supplier TRW Inc. says it will take advantage of major changes in Europe's steering and braking systems aftermarket.
TRW is already a leader in the European braking systems aftermarket through its 1999 acquisition of UK auto parts maker LucasVarity.
Next spring, TRW will launch a steering and suspension program in the aftermarket to take advantage of big changes it sees coming.
The steering systems aftermarket is currently dominated by power rack and pinion systems. But TRW predicts a widespread shift to electrical steering systems in Europe in the next few years.
'Right now the aftermarket here is fragmented,' said TRW spokesman Martin Turner. 'It is not original equipment-based, it is not pan-European and it tends to be low quality.'
TRW is a market leader in original equipment steering systems. Turner said technological developments in steering would progressively push companies that produce replica products into the low end of the aftermarket.
In the future TRW expects most steering systems to be more clearly optimized for each vehicle variant.
Custom applications for each vehicle will be made with advanced plastics and metal alloys selected for individual vehicles.
An aftermarket supplier will need to invest in a much bigger product range and greater technical capabilities in order to compete, said Turner.
For TRW, 'as the leading original equipment supplier [of steering systems] it is very easy for us to go straight from original equipment applications into the aftermarket,' said Turner. 'We are not even replicating.'
Turner predicted that business would become 'quite difficult' for the companies that produce replica products for the aftermarket.
TRW says steering systems will eventually add about 20 percent to its aftermarket business.
To meet new European standards, TRW has also launched a new program of brake friction materials with capabilities very similar to original equipment fit.
Beginning April 1 new European standards will be required for brake pads for vehicles that were introduced after October 1999.
The tougher standards are expected to give original equipment suppliers a technological advantage.
'The European Union has said that, from 2003, all heavy metal will be banned in these components,' said Turner. 'Public concerns about pollution and safety are going to have an increasing impact in the aftermarket - just as up until now they have had an impact on the original equipment market.'