DETROIT -- Since spinning off from Ford Motor Co. in 2000, Visteon Corp. has been in a continual state of identity crisis.
The supplier stumbled through board turmoil, bankruptcy, multiple CEOs and, over time, a drastic paring-down of its businesses.
CEO Sachin Lawande took over the top executive spot in mid-2015 and went to work, firing the company's r&d team in early 2016 and going as far as sitting in on interviews with entry-level software engineers.
Now, Lawande is betting the supplier's future, and possibly his career, on a single vision.
At this week's CES in Las Vegas, Visteon is unveiling its DriveCore platform, a sort of central command for electronics and software for autonomous cars known as a "domain controller." The platform is an extension of its SmartCore platform, which similarly centralizes the software and hardware control electronics, but for cockpit systems, such as infotainment, heads-up displays and instrument clusters. Drive Core connects Visteon's electronics and hardware components to the growing autonomous vehicle market, an area from which it had been glaringly absent.
Visteon is shipping its first SmartCore systems to a European customer later early this year and then to China's Dongfeng Motor Co.
DriveCore, however, is outside of Visteon's interiors scope. The supplier largely missed capitalizing on the contract-rich surge to advanced driver assistance systems, such as emergency braking and lane assistance, Sachin acknowledges.
He vowed the company wouldn't miss the next evolution of automotive technology.
Lawande hired an engineering team that now numbers 100 people to create DriveCore, a departure from competitors who have tried to add technology talent by buying other companies.
Until now, that team has been mostly kept quiet.
"We know people will say we have no capabilities or experience in this space, but about a year and a half ago, we created a completely separate unit to focus on this and this only," Lawande said. "I've had to make a lot of tough decisions (like eliminating the former r&d team) because we weren't innovating in the right areas. For us, this is a big bet, but if we're able to fundamentally change Visteon and prove this (DriveCore) out, we're going be successful."
Regroup and rebuild
After spinning off from Ford, the electronics and interiors supplier never posted an annual profit before entering bankruptcy in May 2009. It was plagued by board infighting, under then-CEO Don Stebbins, over the direction of the company.
Board member Timothy Leuliette replaced Stebbins as CEO in 2010 after he was fired by the board. Leuliette triggered a flurry of M&A activity by selling off Visteon's climate businesses to focus exclusively on interior electronics.
In December 2014, Visteon agreed to sell its 70 percent stake in its Korean joint venture Halla Visteon Climate Control to an affiliate of Korean private equity firm Hahn & Co. and Hankook Tire Co. for $3.6 billion. In November 2014, Visteon completed the largest phase of a deal to transfer its automotive interiors business to Dutch firm Reydel Automotive Holdings BV. Reydel is held by New York private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, the former owners of Chrysler.
Visteon also sold its 50 percent stake in Duckyang Industry Co. to Duckyang's management for $24.1 million, or 25.9 billion Korean won, and acquired Johnson Controls Inc.'s electronics business for $265 million in 2014.
The result was a smaller, streamlined Visteon. The supplier reported revenue of $9.54 billion in 2010, but the paring of businesses brought that down to $3.16 billion in 2016.
Lawande was named Leuliette's successor in June 2015. In an interview with Crain's Detroit Business at that time, Leuliette said the time had come for Visteon to find direction.
"I've been here to live with the selloff, to clean up the business," Leuliette told the affiliate of Automotive News. "The bets we're going to be making on software, those are a three- or five- or seven-year bets, and the guy who makes those bets should be here to live with those decisions. From a cleanup perspective, it's about done … This is not your fathers' Visteon."