LAS VEGAS -- With Visteon Corp.'s announcement last month that it would sell its division that produces heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, the supplier is concentrating on one product segment: cockpit information systems.
In a Jan. 7 interview here with Staff Correspondent David Sedgwick, CEO Tim Leuliette, 65, spelled out his plan for the more focused company.
Q: Last year, Visteon acquired Johnson Controls' electronics operation for $265 million. How does that deal make Visteon better?
A: We have a technological base that is quite impressive. We are one of the largest suppliers of cockpit ecosystems in the world. We have a very strong order book, so now we'll grow our business in the connected car.
Where is Visteon among suppliers to the connected car?
In the cockpit ecosystem, which includes driver information, audio, infotainment, HUD [head-up display], telematics, we are No. 2 or No. 3 in the world, depending on the exchange rate. Every piece of information that goes from the cloud to the vehicle, from the vehicle to the cloud, goes through us.
At a time when smartphones are updated every six months or so, how will Visteon keep its human-machine interface up to date?
If we write specs for an instrument cluster today, we know darn well that its graphics, and its interface, and its HMI attributes will quickly become dated because the world has moved on. So we can download [an updated] virtual instrument cluster to the car. The cluster's software lives in the server, and we update it.
To make this work, Visteon has to focus on software, right?
We are making more and more products that are software intensive. Of our 4,000 engineers, half are software people.
Is Visteon becoming a software company?
Yes. We have to in this segment. We now have orders for product where we will build blank screens, and the clusters and the infotainment package will be downloaded from the cloud. And then in a year or two, the customer will say he wants the latest, and he'll get another upgrade. And when the vehicle comes off lease, the automaker will download a new cluster to make it current and get a higher residual.
With a reconfigurable instrument cluster, the car owner can personalize his cockpit.
We envision this will happen someday in the aftermarket. You could download a 1967 Mustang instrument cluster that looks very real -- looks just like the original -- but it's a virtual 3-D screen.
If car buyers are able to personalize the instrument cluster, that would create money-making opportunities for the automaker and dealer, right?
We can equip vehicles with a rudimentary speedometer, and when you go to the dealership, you can pick out something nice. One might cost $50, another might cost $150 and so on. So the vehicle is customized by you. The more you pay, the more stuff you can do.
Is Visteon the world's largest producer of instrument clusters?
We are No. 1 in displays. If you look at the entire cockpit ecosystem, it's Continental AG, Denso, ourselves and Harman. We are competing with technically intensive, capable suppliers -- good competitors.
What does Johnson Controls' electronics operations give Visteon?
They gave us greater infotainment resources -- HUD assets. They also had SmartCore, which gives you the ability to put infotainment, driver information, HUD and telematics on one piece of silicon. It lets you move information around the cockpit.
So the automaker can control all of its cockpit displays with one chip.
Right. And you could move information around with one swipe of your hand to whichever screen you want. You might have Linux, QNX, HTML5, Android -- all those different systems could be working inside, and it's seamless to the consumer.
Does Visteon have any customers for SmartCore?
We'll have a B- and a C-car launch that utilizes it.
What is Visteon's r&d budget?
12 percent to 12.5 percent of sales.
That's a lot.
It's a lot, but that's normal for this segment. It feels right. That's how you make money. We won't get carried away.
A lot of suppliers are setting up venture capital units to invest in promising Silicon Valley start-ups. Is Visteon?
Well, our trading symbol is VC, and we have what we call a VC VC, where we invest in small startups and partner with software people. We announced the Rightware deal and a few other companies in the last few months.
What is Rightware?
It's a software firm that has tremendous capability in graphics. It's based in Finland.
What is Visteon's venture capital budget?
We have sufficient cash, but we haven't said whether we're going to spend $5 million or $100 million. Basically we'll look at opportunities that make sense.
So Visteon is not considering big acquisitions, correct?
Is Visteon feeling any lingering effects from bankruptcy?
Visteon was in purgatory when we went through bankruptcy. Customers tend not to commit to new business if they're afraid you're not going to be around in a few years.
The impact of that will manifest itself in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Our sales growth will be less than the market, but our bottom line growth will be much better because we're getting savings. So we're maintaining a profit picture that looks quite good.
Is Visteon getting new business now?
Between renewals and new business last year, we were awarded $1.3 billion in new contracts on an annual basis. We've gotten a tremendous amount of new business, and we'll see that in 2017 and 2018.
I'm pleased with that, and I'm pleased with our balance sheet. And culturally, we're a different company. One analyst told us he didn't want us at their industrial conference, but at their technology conference.