Interior supplier: We'll be nimble, global

CEO of former JCI unit maps strategy for success

UPDATED: 6/19/14 3:18 pm ET - adds correction

Editor's note: Motus has launched production of overhead systems for Honda at a plant owned by the Yanfeng-Johnson Controls joint venture in Alabama. The name of the customer was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

Automakers sometimes treat interior trim suppliers like merchants at a Turkish rug market, dickering over every last penny and threatening to move to the next stall if they don't get their price.

Shannon White believes automakers are growing tired of that.

As CEO of Motus Integrated Technologies, he wants to win respect -- and higher margins -- for his company as a global supplier of sun visors, headliners and overhead systems.

"There are very few suppliers that can deliver a high-quality product on time everywhere in the world, and do it exactly the way customers want," White told Automotive News. "That's what we intend to do."

Motus, formerly a division of Johnson Controls Inc., was sold in February to Atlas Holdings, a Greenwich, Conn., investment firm that specializes in corporate turnarounds.

Atlas acquired Motus at a time of considerable churn within the interior trim industry. Companies such as Johnson Controls and Visteon Corp. have been selling off interior trim operations, lured by higher profit margins in other segments.

Johnson Controls, which formerly boasted the ability to produce an entire vehicle interior, now limits its automotive unit to seats and batteries. Despite years of painful restructuring, the company struggled to produce acceptable profit margins on interior trim.

White believes Motus can succeed where Johnson Controls failed by being nimble. For example, he wants to move some production of consoles and headliners out of big factories in Holland, Mich., and Ueberherrn, Germany, into smaller plants.

"We plan on having a lot more small facilities located much closer to the customer," White said. Overhead consoles "are big, bulky products that don't necessarily ship well. The closer we can be, the better."

White expects to shift the production without a big capital outlay because the machinery can be moved. He also plans to position Motus as a global supplier, even though the company has no Asian plants.

To cover Asia, he says he'll work with the newly formed joint venture between JCI and Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems Co. of Shanghai, which produces door panels, instrument panels and consoles.

White believes that working with the joint venture will be attractive to his customers, which include Daimler AG, Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, General Motors, Honda Motor Co. and BMW AG.

Motus, with global sales topping $350 million and no debt, has enough heft to position itself as a global supplier, White says.

But White acknowledges that Motus is still a work in progress. Headliner sales have been lagging, and Motus faces competition in that segment.

Grupo Antolin of Spain has entered the North American headliner market, and the company brags that it is now North America's largest headliner producer, claiming one-third of the market.

Meanwhile, White still has to restructure his company's European operations, which include two big factories in Creutzwald, France, and Ueberherrn.

He says he can stabilize European operations without closing either plant. Meanwhile, a healthy North American market will enable White to grow his company.

For example, Motus has launched production of overhead systems for Honda in a plant owned by the Yanfeng-Johnson Controls joint venture in Cottondale, Ala. So Motus may be a smallish stand-alone supplier, but it has a helpful ally.

Despite the length of his to-do list, White seems unfazed by the competition. He has no plans to expand his product portfolio beyond headliners, visors and consoles, and he doesn't envision the need for big investments.

"We will run Motus as a nimble operation that is focused on its core customers," White said. "Our goal is to become a global Tier 1 supplier, and I believe we're in a position to do that."

You can reach David Sedgwick at

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