Jean-Michel Elter, CEO of France's Sommer Allibert Industrie, expects sales to double to 20 billion francs ($6.6 billion) within five years.
Growing demand for cockpit and door modules will fuel growth for the automotive division of the French plastics group, he said. Cockpits and door panels made up two-thirds of the division's sales in 1997.
Elter, 50, has been CEO since 1991. He joined Sommer Allibert group in 1982. Elter was interviewed in Paris by Automotive News Europe Staff Reporter Stephane Farhi.
What is your strategy for modularization?
We are ahead of schedule in applying cockpit and door modules. We started offering solutions to carmakers six years ago. For instance, where to locate telephone sets or airbags. A supplier must become a module architect. It is the main difference between a systems maker and a module maker.
We've just received a carmaker's approval for a new door module for its models after 2000. We will build several assembly plants for this purpose, both in Europe and in the Americas. We are the first supplier to provide such a complete module.
What is the status of SAS Autosys-temtechnik, your joint venture with Siemens for cockpit modules?
SAS had 500 million francs ($83 million) in sales in 1997. It will reach 1 billion francs in 2000 and 2 billion in 2002. The joint venture includes assembly plants in Germany (for Volkswagen Polo and Seat Arosa cockpits), Czech Republic (Skoda Octavia cockpits), Belgium (Volvo 70 cockpits) and Argentina (Polo cockpits).
We will soon open a plant in Curitiba, Brazil, for the Audi A3, VW Golf and Renault Scenic, and next year in Mexico to supply VW. We also have a number of new programs for PSA (Peugeot-Citroen), Renault and BMW.
Cockpits and door panels made up two thirds of your 1997 sales. But does Sommer Allibert have a critical mass in those businesses?
Sales in cockpits and door panels will explode shortly. Within five years, we expect to reach 20 billion francs ($6.6 billion) sales, compared with 10.5 billion last year. We think the split will be 60 percent in Europe and 40 percent in North and South America. Another growing business is acoustic modules (carpets, soundproof mats, etc.). They accounted for 13 percent of sales in 1997.
Such growth demands huge investment and human resources. I don't think we can do everything. For instance, we do not plan to expand in front-end modules right now.
How will you make Sommer Allibert a global company?
First, by following our customers: BMW in the U.S.A.; Volks-wagen in Mexico, Brazil and the Czech Republic; Renault in Brazil and Turkey. In Brazil, we will also work soon with General Motors, Ford and PSA.
Second, by expanding our r&d capability on a worldwide basis. Globalization will strengthen the trend toward modularization. For instance, we have just developed the interior trim for the new Ford Transit in our technical center in Farmington Hills near Detroit. We are starting to grab some contracts from our American competitors.
What are your plans for the United States?
We need to be bigger in North America.
In 1997, only 5 percent of our sales were in the U.S.A. We target 10 percent in 2000.
In recent years, we've missed some acquisitions there. But we have other ideas.
Toyota and Nissan account for only 3 percent of your sales. Will that change?
We have two plants in the United Kingdom that supply Toyota and Nissan. We are already Toyota's leading European supplier for door panels.
We want to be a global supplier for Toyota. We hope to do so in France and Brazil, but why not also in the U.S.A.?