TOYOTA CITY, Japan – Car seat maker Toyota Boshoku Corp., a closely held supplier of the Toyota Group, wants to expand sales to rival automakers and sees big opportunities in Europe.
The company generates about 97 percent of its global sales from Toyota Motor Corp.
But the share of non-Toyota sales will rise to 7 percent from 3 percent, following the June purchase of the interior trim business of European supplier Polytec Holding AG.
Most of the increase in non-Toyota sales will initially come from interior items such as door trim and ceiling liners. Polytec, which has eight factories in Germany, Poland and South Africa, already manufactures those products for BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Opel.
But Toyota Boshoku is also looking to expand seat sales as well.
Currently, Toyota Boshoku provides seats to only one automaker outside Toyota. Those go into the Cadillac SRX and Saab 9-4x SUVs made by General Motors in Mexico. But Toyota Boshoku also expects to supply seats and seat back frames to BMW beginning in 2013.
"We bought Polytec and that will give us a chance to have business with European OEMs," Executive Managing Officer Kazuhiko Miyadera said in an Aug. 2 interview. "For Toyota Boshoku, which is a group company of Toyota, it's not easy to have such business."
Toyota Boshoku's ties to Toyota Motor Corp. are strong. The carmaker holds 39 percent of the supplier, compared with around 22 percent for fellow Group suppliers Denso and Aisin Seiki.
Toyota Boshoku President Shuhei Toyoda is also a distant relative of Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda and a former head of Toyota Motor's European operations. Miyadera is another Toyota Motor veteran, working there for 31 years before entering Boshoku in 2009.
Seating and other interior components are Toyota Boshoku's mainstay, accounting for 89 percent of its global revenue. It made 5.86 million seats in the fiscal year ended March 31.
Key to the expansion is a new generation of lightweight seats, dubbed the NF110 Series, which were first introduced in 2008 for the Toyota iQ minicar. They are now used in the Toyota Prius and other models, and are manufactured in Japan, North America and Europe.
The seats cut costs because they use 25 percent fewer parts than their predecessor model and undergo 25 percent fewer manufacturing processes. A re-engineered frame using high-tensile steel let Toyota Boshoku reduce weight 10 percent to help improve the car's overall mileage.
The company is considering offering that seat to non-Toyota customers. Says Miyadera: "If the frame meets the requirements of customers beside Toyota, there might be the chance."
Regarding future trends in seat technology, Miyadera said energy saving features will be key.
One goal is further weight reduction through the use of more high tensile steel or plastics. That will enhance overall weight reduction in vehicles and help save fuel.
Another trend is the further development of heating and cooling systems built into seats. These more efficiently warm and cool because they are in direct contact with people's bodies, Miyadera said. Doing so relieves strain on the traditional dash-mounted climate control system, which can be less efficient because it has to heat or cool the entire cabin.
In the United States, Toyota Boshoku is still negotiating the division of several plants operated jointly with Johnson Controls under the name Trim Masters, Inc., the company said. The partners had run 11 plants supplying Toyota auto assembly plants in North America.
Five of those have already been split off and taken over by Toyota Boshoku. Johnson Controls took control of a sixth. The fate of the five remaining jointly-run plants is still under review.