Cie. Plastic Omnium SA CEO Laurent Burelle is a high-energy executive who at 65 says he plans to retire “sometime in the next 50 years.” There is no time to slow down because Burelle wants to boost revenue 32 percent to 7 billion euros ($7.7 billion) by 2018 at the French supplier of bumpers and fuel tanks founded by his family in 1946. Much of the increase is expected to come from components that will help automakers meet tougher global emissions rules, Burelle told Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri. Automotive News Europe is a sister publication to Plastics News.
Q: How would you summarize Plastic Omnium today?
Burelle: We are the world leader in gasoline fuel tanks, painted body panels and plastic structural parts. We are growing fast in selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems. We have new orders, new plants, new customers in new countries and new technologies. All that is fueling the growth we foresee for the 2016-2018 period.
Q: What are the goals for 2018?
Burelle: We plan to reach 7 billion euros in revenue by 2018, up from 5.3 billion ($5.8 billion) last year. I am optimistic because our market shares are increasing. In bumpers, we plan to expand from a 10 percent global share in 2014 to 15 percent in 2018. In fuel tanks we were at 21 percent last year and plan to be at 24 percent by 2018. The SCR business supplied 200,000 systems last year, but we already have booked orders for 2.2 million units for 2018.
Q: Are megaplatforms changing the way you do business?
Burelle: The globalization of platforms is making the orders bigger and bigger. We are negotiating orders of more than 1 billion euros ($1,1 billion) over the life cycle on a regular basis. This is quite new for us. It is a risk and an opportunity: A risk if we lose the contract or do not fulfill it properly; a nice opportunity if it is well executed.
Q: Will the rise of megaplatforms result in supplier consolidation to create bigger players?
Burelle: Yes. You need the financial strength and the global production footprint to supply in different regions. A recent order we got from a big German automaker includes five different countries to supply. Luckily, we already have plants in all those countries. Financial strength is needed to invest in development before you start supplying. I am not sure if this will result in a reduction in the number of players, but automakers will at least need to choose strong partners otherwise they risk having a new product launch fail in five countries at the same time.
Q: Are the megacontracts making your growth predictions more accurate?
Burelle: Absolutely. We have already booked 90 percent of our planned revenue for 2017 and 75 percent for 2018.
Q: How are you adapting to the slowdown of vehicle sales in China?
We are still growing more than the market. Last year the industry grew by about 7 percent and we are up by 22 percent. Of the eight new plants we will open in 2015 and 2016, four will be in China.
Q: Are your customers already asking for help to reach their 2021 CO2 goals in Europe?
Burelle: Yes, CO2 and NOx goals in Europe are very nice drivers for us that help increase our business for SCR systems. Secondly, our lightweight plastic structural parts offer clear benefits as an efficient way to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Q: You are working on a fiberglass reinforced plastic floorpan for PSA. Can you share some details?
Burelle: It provides weight savings of about 8 kilograms. We expect to be in production for PSA by 2020. Then, if you move to more expensive carbon fiber, the saving for the floorpan could reach 15 kilograms.
Q: Are you producing carbon fiber parts?
Burelle: We will supply a carbon fiber interior structural part to a luxury German flagship that reaches the market in October.
Q: Is your fuel tank business at risk because of the move toward electrified powertrains?
Burelle: Over the long term it is a possibility, but right now we see growing demand for our top-of-the-range fuel tanks. Electrification is coming in now mainly through hybrids and hybrids require more sophisticated, low-pressure plastic gasoline tanks. We currently have two gasoline tanks for hybrids under development. Also, fuel cells are the future and we will supply what is needed to safely store them.