IN MARCH, private equity group Blackstone took over 80.4 percent of US supplier TRW Automotive. Earlier, in 2002, TRW's aerospace unit was sold to Northrop Grumman, the arms manufacturer. Northrop Grumman also owns the remaining 19.6 percent of TRW Automotive. John Plant, president and CEO of TRW Automotive, explained the aims of the world's eighth largest auto supplier to Automobilwoche's Klaus-Dieter Flörecke. TRW Automotive had sales of $10.6 billion (E8.9 billion) last year.
What has changed for you since TRW Automotive was sold to Blackstone?
The separation of the military and the automotive business was beneficial to TRW Automotive. Since the Blackstone takeover we have been able to concentrate completely on the car business.
How did your customers react to an investment company getting involved?
The Blackstone group enjoys an excellent reputation, and actually the deal was no surprise to our customers. I got a lot of letters from business customers who welcomed this move. And don't forget: Our financial position has improved through the engagement of Blackstone.
TRW is running a huge development center in Alfdorf, Swabia, Germany, with 1,850 employees. How important is the European market for the enterprise?
TRW concentrates very much on the fields of passive and active safety in vehicles. Many of our innovations first came on to the market in Germany, because there is a lot of interest in features that increase vehicle safety there. That's why today we have more growth in Europe than, for example, in the USA.
Does that show in the distribution of revenue?
Yes. Last year we made 50 percent of our business in the USA, 42 percent in Europe and about 8 percent in the Asia-Pacific region. For 2006 we are forecasting a share of 50 percent of the revenue to come from Europe, around 40 percent from the USA and about 10 percent from the Asia-Pacific region.
What are your plans for the Asian region, especially China?
Last year we had a turnover of about $300 million in China. In the future, we would like to expand strongly there and in India, too. In 2003 we launched two new plants in China. We are also continually looking to expand existing plants on the Chinese market as well as planning new ones. A new factory for safety belts is also part of that. The contracts have already been signed.
And what is TRW planning to do next in Germany?
We are also investing heavily there. Alfdorf is the best example of that. For TRW occupant protection systems we have put over E10 million into a new crash simulation facility and into the expansion of our technology center. Another highlight was the safety system Pre-Safe, which was developed in Alfdorf together with DaimlerChrysler.
What are your expectations for the business year 2003?
We have been able to increase our sales in the first quarter of 2003 by 12 percent compared with the same quarter of the year before. But because of the tricky global market conditions I'm expecting our revenue to reach last year's level toward the end of the year, around $10.6 billion, maybe a bit more.
From which products do you expect the biggest growth in the coming years?
The general idea is that we're going to grow in each of our business areas. There is great potential, for instance, in the area of steering control systems or stability control systems. In the area of occupant protection I assume that there will be growth in areas such as crash sensors and seat belt systems.
Do you have to purchase any companies to be able to complete, say, your product range or know-how?
No, that won't be necessary. Today we are already in a very good position. As far as safety systems go, we have the know-how for all the important areas such as brakes, steering, suspension, airbags, seatbelts and crash sensors in each of our business areas.