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Faurecia battles the big players in North American seat market

By: By David Sedgwick and Charles Child
AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

January 28, 2013

DETROIT -- Faurecia, once a minor player in North America, says it has become the region's top producer of emissions-control equipment and interior trim, and is muscling into North America's seating business.

The French supplier is using its global reach and technology to expand its offerings and sales. Faurecia is producing exterior components made of carbon fiber, and it has developed a thin-profile seat to reduce weight and bulk.

In a Jan. 16 interview at the Detroit auto show, CEO Yann Delabriere, 62, discussed his plans for North America with Special Correspondent David Sedgwick and News Editor Charles Child.

Q: Faurecia has said it wants to increase global revenues to 22 billion euros, or $29 billion, by 2016, up from 17.4 billion euros in 2012. Is that still the plan?

Delabriere: Yes, that is still the target.

Q: A year ago, Faurecia said it would spend 2.3 billion euros on capital expenditures through 2015. Are you cutting capital expenditures to save money?

Delabriere: We are going to be more selective with our growth strategy. We will reduce our capital expenditures to 500 million euros [$666 million] per year.

Q: What are your prospects in North America?

Delabriere: We've had very rapid growth. Since 2009, we have almost tripled our revenues in North America [to $4.8 billion]. In the last two years, we've had 15 new manufacturing sites. Now we will enter a phase of stabilization.

Q: Of your four main product segments -- interiors, seats, emissions controls and exterior parts -- which has grown fastest in North America?

Delabriere: Our two largest businesses in North America are interior parts and emissions controls. [In those two sectors] we are No. 1. But seating has expanded pretty fast. The seating business in North America was very much a challenge, but we have made some inroads, particularly with Daimler and Nissan.

Q: In North America, the seating giants are Johnson Controls and Lear. Are you able to compete with them?

Delabriere: Magna is pretty big as well. We may be No. 4. We were very much a small challenger in 2010, but we are in a position today to develop the business further. It's a change from where we were two years ago.

Q: Who are your biggest customers?

Delabriere: Volkswagen will remain our largest global client, with over 25 percent of our business. Beyond that, we have three customers ranging from 10 to 15 percent: PSA, Ford and Renault-Nissan. With our acquisition of Ford's Saline plant last year, Ford may be our second-largest client in 2013.

Q: You're developing components made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic.

Delabriere: It is emerging as a new field, which is a bit longer-term.

Q: But you've had some success. Faurecia produced the Audi RS Sportback's front fenders, which are made of the material.

Delabriere: The first phase is to replace steel with plastic body parts. Perhaps more interesting, in the long run we can replace chassis components and structural parts.

Q: Can you give some examples?

Delabriere: [You can design carbon fiber] floors, the firewall and the trunk floor. But it's not possible in the front of the car, where you have the crush zone. Carbon fiber is not good at absorbing shock. It has a lot of resistance, but it doesn't absorb energy. It breaks.

Q: What are you doing to expand your carbon fiber business?

Delabriere: Last year, we acquired Sora Composites, a small company that specializes in this business. It sells mostly to companies like Aston Martin, where low volume and high cost are not a problem.

Q: At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Faurecia displayed a light thin-profile seat called Urban Rhythm. What makes it special?

Delabriere: The idea is to replace the traditional foam pad with a structure that is much thinner. You would have the same functionality in terms of shock absorption and occupant safety. [Thin profile seats] would allow the carmaker to shrink the chassis but offer the same interior room for the passenger.

Q: When will automakers adopt thin-profile seats?

Delabriere: It may happen in the second half of the decade.

Q: In what type of car do you expect it?

Delabriere: I would expect it in a sports car. It's pretty effective for a vehicle where you want to have an innovative design.

For a complete version of this story, see www.autonews.com.