Delphi Corporation is looking beyond automotive parts to areas as wide-ranging as medical technology, household appliances and satellite radio for faster growth.
According to Reuters, the strategy is an outgrowth of the Troy, Michigan, company’s emphasis on vehicle electronics and an attempt to diversify beyond the brutally competitive automotive sector, where attractive deals on cars squeeze the profit margins of those making the parts.
“We are taking our existing technology in electronics and intellectual property and applying it to different markets,” chief financial officer Alan Dawes told the news agency.
Revenue from non-automotive sales, though small now, could “easily” achieve annual growth of 10% to 20% in the next several years, Dawes told Reuters, which said that compares with low to mid-single-digit percentage increases in the company’s main businesses.
Delphi also says the non-automotive operations do not require costly investments in research, engineering and on the factory floor, key for a company that has focused on cost cuts, including a 12% workforce reduction, since its spin-off from General Motors Corp. five years ago, the report added.
Reuters noted that, in that time, Delphi has faced many of the same challenges that have weighed on the carmaker, including hefty pension and health care obligations and a portfolio of businesses it wants to divest.
The report said Delphi already has a big hit in the consumer electronics arena with the XM SKYFi satellite radio, which built on its expertise in audio systems – since introducing it in late 2002, the company has supplied 750,000 of the portable units to retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart.
Reuters said that, as a stand-alone company, Delphi has steadily expanded its customer base in what it calls its “transformation” beyond GM – today it sells parts to every major light vehicle manufacturer in the world, but GM still accounts for 61% of its business.
Delphi has also shed nearly 25,000 jobs in the past three years as it closed or sold dozens of plants and businesses but its share value has languished as investors focused on its retirement liabilities and under-performing businesses, the report noted.
Analysts told Reuters that, while purely non-automotive sales – at $150 million to $200 million – were a tiny part of Delphi’s 2003 revenue of $28.1 billion, the company’s entry into such markets makes sense.
“Every automotive supplier needs to broaden their horizons out from under the severe price pressure of the auto industry,” Philip Gott, automotive consultant for research and consulting firm Global Insight told the news agency, adding: “You really have to love to make parts, because if your goal is to make money, it’s not a good business to be in.”
Reuters noted that, while many suppliers strive to be No. 1 or 2 in their main business lines, a few have pursued markets beyond vehicles – Germany’s Robert Bosch, which ranks second to Delphi, manufactures a full line of home appliances.
Reuters said that, to diversify, Delphi has tapped related markets like heavy trucks, marine, and construction and agricultural equipment while sales of consumer electronics, mainly for commercial vehicles, reached $1.3 billion last year.
Delphi reportedly sees some of its most rapid growth in applications ranging from medical equipment and telecommunications to consumer entertainment and household appliances, Reuters said, noting that the company’s technology is used in everything from wheelchairs and medical monitoring systems, such as ultrasound equipment, to dishwashers and cooling systems for computer servers.
Analysts reportedly said a company that can meet the exacting quality standards of the automotive industry and survive its price wars could give less battle-tested incumbents in other industries a run for their money.