BERLIN - Renault's purchasing chief says the company's new alliance with Nissan creates an enormous opportunity for European parts suppliers.
Several of Renault's French suppliers - all but shut out of the Japanese and Asian original-equipment markets - are moving quickly to take advantage of the situation.
'There are huge opportunities for European suppliers to work in Japan with Nissan,' said Jean-Baptiste Duzan, Renault's senior vice president of purchasing.
The opportunities result from a drastic change in the relationship between Nissan and its keiretsu suppliers.
Like other Japanese car groups, Nissan traditionally has picked suppliers from among its affiliates or subsidiaries. But that is expected to change now that Renault has acquired 38 percent of the company and assumed virtual management control. Nissan already had begun to dismantle its traditional supplier network before Renault bought its stake.
'Nissan has not been open enough in the past,' Duzan said.
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Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's new COO, said here that while Nissan offers manufacturing and engineering know-how, 'Renault has more to bring to Nissan in purchasing.'
He said Nissan's purchasing costs in Europe are 10 to 15 percent higher than Renault's.
French suppliers' exports to Japan totaled $85 million in 1998. Although this was 19.6 percent higher than the previous year, it represented less than 1 percent of the global export total of $15.1 billion.
Several Renault suppliers are examining the opportunities that the alliance could bring to them in Japan, Asia, the United States and Europe. The first prospects will result from the replacement for the Nissan Micra and Renault Clio super minis, due around 2003. The two cars will be based on the same platform.
'We will go to common platforms, which means common suppliers,' said Duzan. 'However, these suppliers might be different in Europe and in Japan.'
Faurecia's marketing vice president, Patrick de Bellescize, said Renault and Nissan are discussing seat specifications for the Clio-Micra platform. Faurecia, which makes seats, exhaust systems and plastic parts, is awaiting the outcome anxiously.
The French supplier will supply the rear seats of the Nissan Tino compact minivan to be built at Nissan Iberica in Barcelona, Spain, starting next year. Faurecia's plant in Flers, France, also exports seat slides to Japan for Nissan and Daihatsu. In the United States, it owns Dynamec, a joint venture with Fuji Kiko in which Nissan holds a 24 percent stake. Dynamec, located in Walton, Ky., sells seat mechanisms to Nissan, Mitsubishi, Isuzu and CAMI Automotive.
Nissan has two seat suppliers in Japan. The main one is Ikeda Bussan, of which Nissan owns 38 percent. Nissan is practically Ikeda Bussan's only customer. The other is Tachi-S, which also supplies Honda, Mitsubishi and Toyota. Faurecia has had some links with Tachi-S. The two companies formerly operated a joint venture in England to provide seats to Honda's Swindon plant. Five years ago, Tachi-S sold its stake to Bertrand Faure, which later merged with ECIA to create Faurecia.
French steelmaker Usinor also is keeping an eye on possible new prospects.
'We have always followed Renault,' said Michel Tuchman, head of business development for Usinor Automotive, a newly created business unit inside the company. In Brazil, Usinor owns a stake in a joint venture that supplies stamped parts to Renault's Curitiba plant.
Usinor Automotive's main customers are Renault and PSA/ Peugeot-Citroen. But Usinor is also Nissan's main steel vendor in Europe, supplying assembly plants in Sunderland, England, and Barcelona. Tuchman said Usinor provides about 40 percent of Nissan's steel in Europe.
But Usinor has only small operations in Asia, mainly in Thailand. 'We are watching what happens with much interest,' said Tuchman.
France's two biggest automotive suppliers, Valeo and Michelin, also are expected to expand in Japan. Valeo Chairman Noel Goutard, who was in Japan last month, is 'interested in setting up an industrial operation in Japan,' said a Valeo spokesman.
Last month, Japanese analysts said that lighting specialist Ichikoh was a likely acquisition target for Valeo. Nissan owns 20.6 percent of Ichikoh, while Toyota owns 9 percent. Ichikoh controls 30 percent of the Japanese automotive lighting market.
Meanwhile, Michelin is expected to react to the takeover last February of Sumitomo by Goodyear. Rumors of talks with Yokohama Rubber and Toyo Tire were denied by Michelin. However, with only 8 percent of sales in Asia, Michelin is not expected to remain idle.