Detroit — The automotive industry is not without its disruptions and disruptors, but when a company — perhaps a Tier 1 automotive interiors supplier — is teetering on the edge of a rocky cliff, it takes a turnaround guy, so to speak, to pull it back to safety.
At International Automotive Components Group, a global supplier of automotive components and systems, including instrument panels and center consoles, Robert "Steve" Miller was the helping hand that led the company back to solid ground when founder Wilbur Ross Jr. stepped down as chairman of the board in 2014 and hired Miller the following year.
It is his turnaround of IAC — in two short years — that makes Miller the recipient of Plastics News' 2017 Automotive Newsmaker of the Year award.
Miller, whose extensive resume includes a momentous position as executive chairman of Delphi Corp. during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy from 2007 until its emergence in 2009, even wrote an autobiography on managing companies near collapse titled, "The Turnaround Kid: What I Learned Rescuing America's Most Troubled Companies."
Today, as president, CEO and director of IAC, which has North American operations in Southfield, Mich., Miller is running a refocused Tier 1 automotive supplier that has streamlined its operations and functions by phasing out nonautomotive activity.
"The automakers more and more have global platforms, and they want to have consistency of process technology and product technology to support them wherever they make the cars," Miller said Jan. 16 during a Q&A session at the Plastics in Automotive conference in Detroit.
"You need to be global to support the technology that is required, and you need to be global in order to serve the customer wherever they are assembling the vehicle," he added, discussing the "serious consolidation" of the automotive interiors business over the last five years.
IAC jumped two spots in Automotive News' list of the top 100 global OEM parts suppliers, moving from No. 43 in 2014 and 2015 to No. 41 in 2016.
PN also lists IAC's North American operations in its injection molder rankings, where it holds the No. 1 spot. The company reported injection molding sales of $1.9 billion and global corporate sales of $6 billion for 2016.
Miller's "formal residence" is in Florida, he said, but his visit to Detroit for the conference also gave him some time to stop by the North American International Auto Show.
"Today, the emphasis has completely drifted away from the shape [of the vehicle]. All of the cars are aerodynamic, so they kind of all look alike," he said. "What's really exciting is the technology that goes into them."
Miller added that the Detroit auto show is no longer about this "sexy shape of a motor vehicle," but instead about what the future is going to look like as actions toward bringing electric and autonomous vehicles to market intensify.
Miller also mentioned the Consumer Electronics Show, which took place earlier this month in Las Vegas, where instead of being about the next iPhone or similar consumer device, it is "becoming more and more an automotive show," he said.
After all, an "automobile is where the technology meets the road," Miller added.
Asked which brands he thinks will be leading the automobile industry in the future, say 2030, Miller said he anticipates both automakers — General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., for instance — and big-name technology providers like Google LLC and Apple Inc. will have a "bright future."
"Yes, there's going to be a lot more electronic content. This may come about through partnerships between automakers and technology providers, but at the end of the day, this is a much bigger thing than producing an iPhone or an Apple Watch," he said.
Automakers have mastered the process of assembling millions and millions of vehicles each year — "one of the triumphs of human organization," Miller said — and have decades of experience producing something that can protect people traveling from point A to point B.
Miller added: "It's a wonderful new era we're in, and the different companies with their specialties are going to have to learn to work together in order to create automobiles of the future."