SHANGHAI — Roberto Gualdoni, CEO of Styrolution GmbH, believes it's just a matter of time until the German styrenics maker establishes its own production in China.
While acknowledging that China is a very competitive market with overcapacity at this moment, he noted: “It's the most important market in the world, you can't be a market leader without a plant in China.”
“It's not a matter of whether we want to or not, it's a matter of when.”
He made the comments at a news conference the company hosted in Shanghai during Chinaplas, April 23-26.
Greater China currently represents about 8 percent of Styrolution's 5.8 billion euros ($8 billion) in global sales for 2013. Asia overall represents about 20 percent of that. “So there is still a long way we have to go,” he said.
Styrolution has an ongoing partnership with Hong Kong-based compounder Plastic World (China) Ltd., which has been manufacturing Styrolution's ASA, ABS and high-heat ABS materials under a licensing agreement at PW's Shenzhen factory.
In the rest of Asia outside of China, Styrolution seems to have a more established market position, with ASA production in South Korea, expanded ABS production in India and capacity in Southeast Asia, as well as R&D centers in Korea and India.
“We are the absolute market leader in India, uncontested,” Gualdoni added.
To expand its presence in China, however, Styrolution won't take the normal bread and butter approach, Gualdoni added. The overcapacity and competitiveness of the market makes it critical to bring high value-added products, but the company needs to better understand how customers define value in China.
He said that's the reason Styrolution has expanded its team in China and brought it to Shanghai to further explore customers' exact needs.
“When we understand what the customers want, and how we can make our customers more successful, then we will be ready to take a look at investments or acquisitions.
“The biggest challenge is not so much a technological challenge, not even a financial challenge,” he said. “It is to understand what our customers really want… not now, not in three years, [but] in five years.”
Styrolution's most recent push for China growth fits into its global “triple shift” strategy, which is focusing on emerging markets, ABS and specialty materials, and high-profit, high-growth customer industries.
Styrolution, a joint venture between Ineos and BASF, is the world's largest maker of styrene monomer, polystyrene and styrenics-related specialty products. It's also the world's third largest maker of standard ABS.
Its global network includes 17 production bases, 6 R&D centers and 3,200 employees in 10 countries. It claims more than 1,000 active patents, 1,500 products, 2,000 applications across seven industries, and 4,000 customers.