DETROIT -- Now that automakers are designing cockpits for self-driving vehicles, Faurecia SA wants to position itself as an A-to-Z supplier by forming alliances with makers of airbags and climate-control systems.
The French seat maker is holding talks with potential partners and hopes to make an announcement this year, Faurecia CEO Patrick Koller says.
To design and integrate cockpits for self-driving vehicles, "We need two other partners," said Koller, 58. "We are having advanced discussions, and we believe that with these players, we will be able to offer full solutions."
Faurecia, a supplier of seats, interior components and emissions-control equipment, generated $22.97 billion in parts sales in 2015. It ranks eighth on Automotive News' list of the top global automotive suppliers.
During a Jan. 9 interview with Staff Correspondent David Sedgwick, Koller said the growing complexity of cockpits would favor mega-suppliers that could integrate seats, electronics, safety components, information displays and climate control.
Q: Does Faurecia have any contracts to produce a complete interior?
A: We have three development contracts.
Do you expect to get production contracts in the next three to five years?
So you're positioning Faurecia as an integrator of complete interiors?
We will not convince our customers to buy everything from us. But we'll be in the best position to sell the highest content possible, because of system integration.
But there are interior components that Faurecia doesn't produce, right?
We don't make safety devices like airbags and seat belts. And today, we are not making anything linked to [climate control].
Will Faurecia form partnerships to design those components?
Yes. The people who are ready to become partners with us are big. We are talking about big players.
There aren't many airbag suppliers that can do what Faurecia needs. Maybe Autoliv and TRW, right?
It's a pretty consolidated industry.
How will Faurecia manage new technology such as augmented reality displays, gesture control and voice recognition?
We are defining road maps for technology packages that will be available in 2020, 2025 and 2030.
We know which technologies the industry is working on.
Can you give examples of technology trends for 2020 and 2025?
We might see the first [organic light-emitting diode] displays in 2020, but they'll really be common by 2025. You will see information displays in different locations than we have now. You might have an OLED display on the B-pillar, the windshield or the windows.
That's possible because OLED films are paper-thin. They can be put on any surface, right?
We'll have new applications. Information displays won't be just in the instrument cluster or center console.
Has Faurecia opened an office in Silicon Valley?
It's decided. We will have it in the first half of 2017. We will have our scout network based there. We will have M&A capabilities to deal with startups, and we will have advanced innovation there.
Will self-driving cars have rotating seats so that the driver can talk to passengers?
This technology is available. We know how to do that.
What are some of the challenges of cockpit design?
One challenge is air conditioning. You can't keep it behind the instrument panel. It takes up a lot of space. And if you rotate your seat, you can't have a conventional air flow running from front to rear. You have to adapt everything to your position.
You need artificial intelligence. If you're not in a driving position, how much time is needed to get you back into a safe driving position? Is it a minute? Is it less? You can only predict that if you can analyze information about weather conditions, traffic and anything else that represents a risk.
Will automakers get rid of the steering wheel?
I don't think that consumers are ready today to own a car that they can't drive. In the future, you will have a car that you can drive when you want to and that is autonomous when you don't want to drive. So you will be able to choose.
So cars will have steering wheels, even if they are retractable?
I don't know if the steering wheel will stay, because you can also drive with a joystick. So there are other possibilities. But you will be able to drive your car because it will not be able to deal with all situations. For safety reasons, in some circumstances you will be obliged to take over.
How will ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft influence design? Are we more likely to see more luxurious rear seats?
You're right -- it's an opportunity. In the future, the difference between front and rear seats will disappear. You will need exactly the same content in the rear as in the front. Today, premium brands pay much more attention to the front row than the back. This will change.
Will ride-hailing companies demand roomier rear cabins with more headroom and legroom?
Yes, automakers will pay more attention to the interior. And if you're not driving and have time to do something else, what will you do? Relax, watch videos, work, get a massage, things like that.
If ride-hailing companies order fleets, they could specify the type of interior they want, right?
Uber will want a specific interior, or maybe a few different interiors. So when you call for a car, you may specify a particular cabin, like an office on wheels.
And if you are with friends, you could order a lounge car?
Or maybe a party wagon?
Automakers will have to design diverse interiors.
Faurecia makes seats, door panels, consoles -- just about every interior component, right?
We don't make headliners, although we do supply acoustic materials.
Are there any gaps in the product lineup?
We have to invest in infotainment and connectivity. We also have to invest in displays and artificial intelligence. We have to grow our head count in artificial intelligence.
Will you expand your own r&d or make acquisitions?
Both. In Europe, we recently announced the acquisition of Parrot Automotive. They specialize in infotainment, voice recognition and connectivity.
What is Faurecia's budget for mergers and acquisitions?
It depends upon the attractiveness of the acquisitions. I would say 2 billion euros ($2.15 billion) would be the right size.
Twenty years ago, Johnson Controls and Lear promoted their ability to design complete interiors. Automakers weren't interested. Isn't this a big gamble for Faurecia?
Our job is system integration. This is not a new way for us to do business with our customers. Why should an automaker make its life more difficult by multiplying the number of suppliers?