Behr Chairman Horst Geidel, 62, says the German air conditioning and heating and ventilation supplier has suddenly become much more competitive in North America. The new confidence follows Behr's February acquisition of DaimlerChrysler's Thermal Products subsidiary in Dayton, Ohio, USA. Automotive News Europe's Edmund Chew interviewed Geidel at Behr headquarters in Stuttgart.
What is Behr's outlook for this year?
We hope to at least maintain our 2001 results. We have some new orders for cars being launched this year, including models off the Volkswagen Polo platform and Peugeot 307 platform. This means we will offset the downturn and see some increase in total sales.
What does Behr's acquisition of Thermal Products mean for you?
This is a major breakthrough. It has instantly increased our US market share to more than 10 percent in air conditioning and engine cooling systems, and significantly strengthened our competitive position. We are the only company not linked to an automotive producer and absolutely specialized in thermal management -- engine cooling and air conditioning. We can offer new developments for better and more reliable products in the USA and we can also increase competition there because we are new.
Which products will have the strongest growth this year?
Engine cooling. Both because of new products and because engine cooling plays a very important role in fuel consumption and environmental issues.
What is changing in how automakers work with suppliers?
European automakers are now full-line producers. Mercedes is producing everything from very small cars such as the Smart right up to the biggest ones, like the Maybach. Volkswagen is doing the same. So the variability of products is much higher than before. Carmakers have to develop more variants, so they have to concentrate their r&d capacities on the core business and outsource other r&d work. This is a big chance for suppliers, but it's also a challenge because of the risks.
How are you meeting this challenge?
We have increased our r&d expenditures and are concentrating not only on units such as heat exchangers and air conditioning units, but also whole air conditioning systems and bigger modules. This involves more r&d work, not just new factories. To control our costs, we have to look for better productivity. We did a lot of work with an external consultancy on r&d productivity. We wanted to know how to prioritize ideas for innovation and how we could use r&d to get better and cheaper products.