DETROIT -- Things are changing at Denso, the auto industry's No. 2 supplier. The Toyota-affiliated producer of air conditioning and powertrain parts is preparing for the autonomous-driving age by forming partnerships with companies in emerging technologies. Keni-chiro Ito became CEO of Denso International America last year, and is already busy meeting with new companies. Ito, 54, spoke last month on the sidelines of the auto show here with News Editor Lindsay Chappell.
Q: What is North America's role in the transformation Denso has begun?
A: Mobility represents big change. We have to pay attention and learn more about social trends. The U.S. is a good place to study these trends.
Denso is participating in a ride-sharing venture in Michigan. Does the company plan to enter that business?
No, but we have to understand how it works and what those customers want so that we know how our components should perform in that environment.
Denso attended CES this year -- a consumer electronics event. That seemed like an unusual place for an air conditioning supplier.
CES was a very good opportunity for us to reach out and meet new people, not just potential customers, but for example, people with startup ventures -- and also nonautomotive companies, like robotics companies.
How many people can a company meet at an event like that?
We had 15 to 20 meetings a day with potential new partners. We went there with that intent. If you look at the future, at the new technologies that are coming, we have to accelerate finding partners who have new technologies, new business models or new know-how. We recognize that, in the future, we can't do everything by ourselves.
That's a different message for Denso. In the past, you really did do everything yourself.
It is a big change for us. And we haven't been talking about it very long. It's new.
It must be a challenge for an old established company like Denso.
That's a good point. We're looking for some different values today. We've declared that Denso will be more open. In the past we might have looked for new partners for something, but we were not so open to them.
What is the opportunity for Denso to grow in North America?
From a volume point of view in North America, we cannot expect a huge increase. The sales results of these past five years are sustainable, especially in the information and safety field. In some areas it will be almost flat.
Is your customer base changing here?
Up until now, the Japanese automakers, Toyota and Honda, account for more than 50 percent of our business. GM, Ford and Chrysler are gradually expanding.