Visteon Corp., a company that once had boiled its vast lineup of products down to instrument clusters, is betting its future on infotainment.
Ford Motor Co.'s former in-house supplier is rolling out an infotainment package, dubbed Phoenix, at the CES technology show next month in Las Vegas.
The idea, according to Visteon CEO Sachin Lawande, is to create an open infotainment system that allows customers to commission their own apps, or choose from Visteon's menu of plug-and-play apps.
"In the past, infotainment systems quickly became stale because the automaker and the Tier 1 supplier were the only ones that could write apps for it," Lawande told Automotive News during a Dec. 19 interview. Automotive News is a sister publication of Plastics News.
Visteon, based in the Detroit suburb of Van Buren Township, currently is one of the top three global suppliers of instrument clusters, had previously offered componentry for center stack displays. But now the company is repositioning itself as a direct competitor with infotainment giants such as Panasonic, Pioneer and Harman.
With an estimated $3.1 billion in global sales this year, Visteon is a relative small fry compared with Panasonic or Harman. But Lawande believes he has some building blocks to work with.
Last year, Visteon unveiled its Smart Core multi-domain controller, which uses one electronic control unit to operate both the instrument cluster and center console screen.
Visteon also has generated some sales of its combiner-HUD technology, a relatively inexpensive head-up display system that projects images onto a small acrylic screen behind the steering wheel.
At the CES show, Lawande will introduce an augmented-reality HUD display that projects a variety of data — such as turn-by-turn navigation or potential road obstacles — onto a broad section of the windshield.
And in 2018, Visteon will launch its own software package for self-driving vehicles and collision avoidance.
To be sure, Visteon — the No. 64-ranked company on the Automotive News list of top 100 global parts suppliers — will have plenty of competition from industry giants such as Bosch, Denso, Continental AG and ZF TRW. But Lawande did gain some credibility this month when he recruited Matthias Schulze, the former chief of Daimler's advanced engineering for driver assistance systems. Schulze has joined Visteon's r&d unit in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Visteon will not develop its own radar, cameras or lidar sensors. Instead, Schulze's team will focus on the algorithms that allow a vehicle to spot obstacles and choose a course.
Are automakers buying Visteon's reinvention? Initial signs are positive. Sales will be flat this year, but in 2018, new contracts will generate growth. The company's $16 billion backlog of future business grew 9 percent this year.
In addition to that, investors have begun to view Visteon as an acquisition target in the wake of Samsung's $8 billion acquisition of Harman International.
Visteon's stock price — which had fallen 39 percent for the year through Nov. 11 — jumped 16 percent in the week following Samsung's announcement, according to Bloomberg.
Analysts have noted that a Visteon acquisition would allow a consumer electronics supplier to enter the fast-growing automotive infotainment sector.
Lawande notes that the speculation has been good for Visteon's stock price. "Christmas came early this year," he joked.