Rande Somma, president of interior trim, marketing and business development for Johnson Controls Inc., is the point man in the seat maker's new joint venture with Recaro North America Inc.
The deal, announced Monday, April 6, will give Johnson Controls exclusive rights to market and manufacture the German manufacturer's seats in North America. Somma spoke with Managing Editor David Versical. Edited excerpts:
Did the automakers tell you, 'We want to put branded seats in our vehicles'?
No, they haven't asked that question, specifically. But they certainly are asking the question, 'What kind of ideas, what kind of innovation and creativity can you provide to help us with our products plans, and help us with our brand strategies?'
Did you pursue Recaro?
I don't know who made the first phone call, but Recaro had an initiative already in motion in North America. They realized that they needed a partner to add credibility to what they were trying to do here.
Recaro's already gotten some early indications that the OEMs are going to be excited about what they can do with this opportunity. And it really gives consumers a product that they can be excited about.
How does the joint venture fit into your North American strategy?
We are really trying to put a lot of focus on developing products, and coming up with product opportunities for the OEMs that help them with what they're trying to do in the marketplace. Through our relationship with Prince (a Johnson Controls division), we have a lot of interior products along both the lines of product differentiation and branding - Homelink, Autolink, Pathfinder and some others.
The Recaro opportunity is significant for adding on to that capability. It's the first branded seat product made available to the carmakers in North America. So it gives an opportunity to the product planners, brand managers, and so on.
What do you see in terms of revenues and margins?
I really wouldn't want to speculate on that.
What is Johnson Control's investment in this program?
I really don't want to comment on that right now.
Is it cash, facilities, engineering?
Well, I guess I would say our investment is, first of all, our presence in the North American market. We will be the manufacturer of the seats when we get the orders. Even though Recaro has the predominant role in the relationship from a technical side, we will be providing technical collaboration with Recaro on the products, now and going forward.
What kind of marketing campaign do you have planned?
Clearly, Recaro's thrust is to gain the same type of brand recognition for Recaro in North America as they now enjoy in Europe and Asia.
What the joint venture is going to do is as quickly as possible pull together the marketing teams and go out and begin visiting with the OEMs, and start having discussions with the right folks within the OEM community about the joint venture. What the joint venture is about. What the joint venture offers.