BWI Group acquired the business of Delphi Chassis Systems on 1 November, 2009 and the product portfolio is split into two complementary groups: ride & handling technologies and braking technologies. In both areas, the offering ranges from items such as twin-tube dampers and brake system components, through to active systems.

BWI global manager technology and business development, Olivier Raynauld, talked to Simon Warburton at the recent Paris motor show about the challenges facing BWI and the opportunities created by its Chinese owners

J-a: How do you see the market in France at the moment?

OR: “It is very difficult in France with Renault and PSA Peugeot-Citroen going through difficult times. We have not to be dependent on France. The car industry is global so if we are going to be successful, we have to be global and follow where customers [are] and also follow market shifts.”

j-a: What is the recent history of BWI?

OR: “BWI was purchased in November, 2009 and is the old Delphi chassis division with brakes and suspension that was purchased by a Chinese company.

Beijing West Industries is based in a suburb [of the Chinese capital and] the biggest shareholder is Shougang Steel. It is a very big company and used to be based in Beijing inside the city – a lot of it was moved out for the [2008] Olympics. These people were moved to the coast and built an artificial peninsula so they could [link] up with the deep sea harbour. I visited that plant – it is absolutely amazing.

“The other half of the consortium is Shougang Municipality – they purchased brakes and suspension from Delphi to get into the automotive industry.”

j-a: Why would a Chinese local authority want to become involved in the automotive sector?

OR: “China wants to build a base of Chinese suppliers and they have understood by buying up foreign suppliers they would have got to world [class].”

j-a: What are BWI’s activities in its key markets?

OR: “In China, our biggest business is brakes, we have a brakes plant in Shanghai, suspension is small. In North America, it’s more suspension [while] in Europe the heart of the business is the passive dampener and active roll control on Landrover products.

“The European suspension business was always based in Paris, until we opened a technical centre in Krakow. BWI finds Paris is very convenient to visit customers in Europe. Our Chinese and American bosses come to Paris – and like to come to Paris.”

j-a: Can you give an example of a key customer?

OR: “[Audi has] the MagneRide controlled suspension system that is an option on the A3 and standard on the revised A8. Audi is a big user.

Ferrari has been a consistently good customer and the new Range Rover has new BWI air suspension modules and the roll control actuator. That is a long-term relationship with Range Rover.

j-a: How is BWI performing given the economic challenges in Europe for example?

OR: “For the last three years we have booked a lot of sales – our plants are busy. BWI inherited the order book in 2009 and we have booked a lot of business.

“The OEMs have been telling us for years to follow them wherever they go around the world and that is exactly what we are doing. Vehicle manufacturers themselves in Europe and the US are very active in China [for example].

“It is easier to sell to the Chinese because they know us and know our product. They want the same product on Chinese cars – the Chinese will expect the same quality as a European car even if it is made in China.”

j-a: Does BWI act as a lobby group for its interests?

OR: “We participate more than lobby, but especially in electronics, we have no choice but to participate in ISO and various standards organisations as we need to remain on top of what is coming.

“We have to have systems as standard that communicate to each other. It looks like regulation but it is a process to validate every product in a uniform way.”

j-a: Are BWI products regarded more as luxury items for the top end of the market?

OR: “Dampeners [for example] can trickle down to the lower levels of the market with appropriate innovation – there are a lot of things in between – we need to provide that. They [customers] are asking for things on Minis and 3-Series for example – it is about personalising your car – you don’t want the same as your neighbour.”

j-a: How important is research to BWI?

OR: “There is a group that is doing research, looking five, ten years ahead in our company because if you don’t you are going to be left outside. We have to keep on with technical advances but [that] is just the sexy part of the business.

“The heart of the business is base brakes and base dampeners. Your customers don’t want four different suppliers – you have to be able to supply a range to your customer – it is about simplifying things for everybody.”

j-a: Did the change of ownership mean some clients went elsewhere?

OR: “We did not lose customers since we became BWI, we actually gained customers. There is continuity that is very appreciated by our customers.

“The Chinese are not coming in gung-ho – the Chinese are here for the long term and they have shown that.”

BWI’s product portfolio is supported by technical centres in North America, China, Japan, France and Poland and by applications support centres in Australia, Germany, India, Taiwan and the UK. This is complemented by hot and cold weather test centres in North America, China, and Europe.

The company opened a new winter test facility in Daqing, north east China, earlier this year to support growing demand from local automakers for advanced brake technologies. The facility provides a range of test tracks for the development of systems, such as electronic stability control, anti-lock braking and traction control systems.