German Mittelstand supplier Brose, with sales of €1.93bn in 2003, has grown rapidly from its base in seat and door mechanisms to become the market leader in door modules.

In November 2002 it acquired the closures business of Bosch. Kurt Sauernheimer, head of door systems division at Brose, talked to SupplierBusiness.com about how the door module business is developing.

What are the biggest challenges for the Brose door modules business in 2004?

We have a couple of new plants in the ramp-up phase. We have started a new plant close to Saarlouis to supply Ford, a new plant in Gent to supply Volvo, we are in ramp-up starting a new plant in Rastatt to supply Mercedes, we opened a new plant in Chicago to supply Ford, and at the end of the year we start a new plant in Tuscaloosa to supply Mercedes. Five plants in parallel, in ramp-up phase, is a challenge. Fortunately, everything is running smoothly, and I think our customers are quite satisfied with our performance.

How is the integration of the former Bosch closures business going?

It's moving forward. We have got new business equivalent to about 60% of our current volume, in only one and a half years. That's quite a good figure. That will bring growth in the next few years. It is mainly the latch business, but we also have new contracts, where our latch is part of our door system.

Are door modules still growing?

Yes, the trend is clear - it is going towards modularisation, but when a manufacturer has a reduction in sales and a redundant workforce, they slow down a bit. As soon as the sales are going up they increase the speed towards modularisation again.

So there are ups and downs, but the general trend is that modularisation will come. Every customer is thinking about door modules and every customer is thinking about the next steps, so I think the next challenging step for everybody in that business will be the next integration phase.

What is the average content of the door module business?

Most of the companies in that business are running the products Brose brought into the market, the carrier, either steel or plastic separating the door into the wet and the dry side and containing all the functional parts of the door.

I think this is now a kind of market standard - about 50% of the door, including window regulator, latch, inner handle, outer handle, all the complete locking system, speakers, door electronics, airbag sensors and these things. I think all of us are looking for the right next step.

Will we see a complete door module?

I don't think there will be a complete door. On a long-term view, I think 2007, 2008 we will have the next level, similar to what we have already done with the Porsche and the Volkswagen Touareg.

That higher level of integration will be the glass, the frame of the door, the sealing and maybe parts or total of the inner trim. If you look at the cars coming out the next three years, it will stay more or less on the level we have currently.

What are the issues that will determine what the right next step is?

One thing is the situation of our customers' plants. We are now in discussion with a successful customer that is looking to have as much content as possible outside of his plant. But there are other customers, where we have to look for a way in between. Every customer has its own specific situation.

Are you interested in sliding or rear doors?

We are investigating sliding doors and rear doors, and we have got the first development order for rear doors, and are developing such a system.

How are door modules developing in Asia?

In Shanghai we have a plant that has been producing door modules for five years now, and we are setting up a plant in Changchun, where we produce seat adjusters and door modules. From next year you will see some new Korean cars with modular concepts as well.

Now Japanese companies are more and more interested in modularisation. We have got our first order in Japan. That's very interesting I think, but not all of them have made the decision yet.

Nissan will follow the modular way, and I think the success of Nissan and the figures of Nissan show that they made a good decision.

I think Mitsubishi and Mazda will also follow the modular way, and Honda and Toyota I think are close. Toyota does a modular sliding door already. Toyota is very, very careful with technologies.

SupplierBusiness.com