KIYOSU, Japan -- Toyoda Gosei Co., the Toyota Motor Corp.-affiliated Japanese auto parts supplier, boasts all the hallmarks of a global industrial giant.
The company has 64 group companies in 18 countries and 31,600 employees worldwide. It is No. 29 on the Automotive News top 100 global suppliers list. It makes the hourglass-shaped grilles for Lexus and churns out thousands of steering wheels, airbags, interior components and sealing systems every month.
But to President Tadashi Arashima, it's just a small Japanese player. And that is a big problem in a new era of modularized product development, where automakers want megasuppliers making millions of identical parts worldwide.
"I want to change this company into a true, real global supplier," Arashima, 64, said in a June 30 interview at Gosei's global headquarters in suburban Nagoya. "That is the goal."
Ironically, Gosei's quandary is largely due to its overreliance on Toyota. The world's biggest automaker holds a 43 percent stake in Gosei and accounts for 65 percent of its global sales. Indeed, the company was founded in 1949 as a spinoff of Toyota's rubber research division.
In the not-so-distant past, Gosei could count on its sugar daddy for guaranteed business and steadily rising sales.
In fact, every Gosei president since 1982 has come from Toyota. Arashima was installed at Gosei in 2010 and became president the following year after a long Toyota career culminating in leading the carmaker's European operations.
But now, Toyota is overhauling its own product development strategy to maximize the use of common parts. It has made clear it will look beyond its stable of favored suppliers.
Gosei's challenge will be to build business beyond Japanese brands to help offset uncertainty about Toyota orders.
"In Japan, we can rely on Toyota very much. But if it's outside of Japan, except for maybe Indonesia or Thailand, Toyota's market share is still quite low and not so stable," said Arashima. "We have to have a broader customer base."
Gosei finally achieved more sales outside Japan than inside only in the fiscal year that ended March 31.
But even so, nearly all of its sales -- more than 90 percent -- still come from Japanese automakers, at home and abroad.
By 2020, Arashima wants to diversify the base so Japanese customers account for 70 percent and Toyota for just half.
But without a truly global footprint, that is a challenge.
Gosei has plenty of overseas production firepower. But it lacks sufficient international sales and r&d networks because business has been channeled so long through Toyota and Gosei's offices in Japan.
"We were actually approached by several non-Toyota customers because from the outside, it looks like we have a great network. But it wasn't really a network," Arashima said.
"In the past, because our customers were mainly Japanese customers, particularly Toyota, our subsidiaries overseas look to us," Arashima said. "They don't collaborate with each other. They all have their reporting to Japan."
To reach more non-Toyota customers, Gosei purchased German rubber products maker Meteor Gummiwerke K.H. Baedje GmbH in April. Doing so buys business with Daimler, Audi and BMW.
"One of the reasons we bought Meteor is that they have pretty good r&d capabilities, with production engineers there. We know Japanese engineers quite well, but we don't know the way BMW operates," Arashima said. "We've had some difficulties because the way they do things is a bit different from what we know. The German engineers from Meteor can help us in those areas."
Gosei also targets growth in interior console boxes, chrome-plated interior and exterior parts and in such safety systems as airbags and pop-up hoods.
Interior and exterior parts are Gosei's bread and butter, accounting for 31 percent of the company's ¥689.4 billion ($6.71 billion) in sales in the fiscal year ended March 31. Safety systems are next, accounting for 29 percent.
By developing its own airbag inflators with more explosive force, Gosei has been able to engineer a more compact knee airbag.
Another innovation it is trying to sell is external hood airbags that deploy to protect pedestrians. So far, though, no takers.
But Arashima says his company isn't aiming to swoop in on customers stung by the global recall of airbags made by rival Takata Corp., which has forced the callback of millions of cars.
Toyota accounts for the large majority of Gosei's airbag business, but Gosei also supplies Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Peugeot and Opel. Says Arashima: "Our position is not to take advantage of someone's failure."
Long term, he's betting on emerging markets.
"If you look at Southeast Asia or China, that's a huge opportunity," he said. "There still aren't very many airbags in the cars. In India, for example, there's a huge opportunity."