In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with Mike Howarth, vice president of KYB Europe Headquarters, about the company’s shock absorber business.
just-auto: How is your shocks business shaping-up this year?
Mike Howarth: In terms of the European market, OE volumes have been relatively good so far. Having said that, a lot of the government subsidies on new vehicle sales have come to an end so we are not too sure what is going to happen in the next six months.
Although we have a lower than normal order fill for the aftermarket at the moment than we would like to have, it’s probably better than most manufacturers.
I believe that KYB has recently invested in a new Spanish plant?
Yes, we opened the new plant in Pamplona towards the end of 2008. It’s relatively small and known as KYB Advanced Manufacturing. This facility currently manufactures shock absorbers for the BMW 5 Series manufactured in Germany and China. We are also supplying some advanced product to PSA as well as for the Audi RS5/RS6 Quattro models.
Longer life shocks must impact on your aftermarket volumes?
You are correct in that product quality is getting better but having said that aftermarket demand for shock absorbers really should be a lot higher than what it is in terms of worn units on vehicles. So there is always more to go for. We continue to see good volumes in the Eastern European aftermarket due to increasing vehicle sales and the poor quality of roads in those countries. So that offsets it a little bit.
Do you run initiatives to educate the motorist or educate the installer about the dangers of worn-out shocks?
Yes, we started a programme when I was in the US for the aftermarket called Ride Control Solutions to do exactly that, and it produced some results. But the difficulty is that it takes a lot of effort and you are basically looking to change behaviour in garages. Yet changing human behaviour takes a lot of time and you have to keep reinforcing it. We are trying to transpose that same Ride Control Solutions in Europe but it’s proving tricky.
I guess the payback has to be right as well? i.e. you can do all these initiatives directly but it has to come back into KYB’s pocket and not somebody else’s…
That’s right, and it’s got to be done in such a way that we’re making more sales and more profit out of it, so not always easy.
What are the possibilities for adaptive damping systems that can be integrated into other systems such as electronic stability control and ABS?
This is a direction that we are taking now in Europe for our new product development. We have a number of initiatives in that area that we are discussing with car manufacturers at the moment. However, the market for those types of products is probably stronger in Europe, particularly with PSA and German manufacturers.
When you worked in North America, you managed to increase market share for what was then Kayaba. What are your ambitions in Europe?
We are in the process of reorganising KYB Europe; our objectives are to really improve our OE business from a current market share in Europe of approximately 13% to above 20%. Our penetration, particularly for German manufacturers is low so we have a lot of work to do there. Also, we are aiming to retain our strength in the Eastern European aftermarket. So those are our main objectives as well as improving our cost of production and factory efficiencies.