TOKYO REPORT: Supplier strategies for the Chinese components industry - includes comment from Bosch, Hella, Sumitomo Electric

By Matthew Beecham | 24 October 2003

This article is reproduced from Dave's Blog on just-auto (www.just-auto.com/blogs.asp) and was filed exclusively from our own correspondent, Matthew Beecham, at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Perched on a 2ft-sq desk covered in fag ash, empty crisp packets and sticky coffee rings listening to Abba's Mamma Mia, Matthew Beecham files another snapshot of supplier views from Tokyo.

A topical issue that comes up time and again is the blossoming Chinese components industry. Bosch, for example, established its gasoline injection operations there eight years ago with three factories and an engineering centre. "We are expecting a fivefold increase in our business volume in China in the next ten years," said Bosch's head of automotive, Dr Berd Bohr.

East-West alliances as a route to strengthen technical expertise and reduce R&D expense is another point of interest for many. For example, Hella's three-year alliance with Japan's Stanley Electric is proving a successful technology partnership. "Vehicle manufacturers need lighting makers with global coverage," said Joachim Gelhaar, Hella's director of sales for the Asia-Pacific region. "We [Hella and Stanley Electric] are sharing manufacturing sites and R&D so that with each budget we generate, we come to a much faster industrialisation of good ideas. It is very rewarding for us." And how does Stanley see the arrangement? On their stand located nearby, Tadashi Suzuki, R&D manager for Stanley Electric, said: "We have the knowledge and experience to supply the Japanese lighting market. Hella has the same for the Europe. The alliance means we can exchange our knowledge for mutual benefit. By combining our technical strengths, we can offer the customer more choice."

According to Masayoshi Matsumoto, senior managing director of Sumitomo Electric Industries, the company has ambitious plans for expansion in the global wire harness market over the next few years, aiming to lift its share of wire harnesses from 12% to 15% next year and then a staggering 20% by 2008. There are two main pillars to support these aims: establish a global presence and innovation. In North America, the company recently relocated its labour-intensive wire harness loom operations from the US to factories dotted across Mexico. In Europe, the company has moved some production from the UK to Eastern Europe, including Romania, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. These moves come as the Japanese vehicle makers transfer part of their production overseas, repeating their request for cost reduction among their supply base. It means Sumitomo must reduce the scale of its wire harness production in Japan and follow its customers abroad. The company is also transferring production to China and other Asian countries. The company is also expanding its market share through some merger and acquisition activity. In 1999, Sumitomo Electric Industries and Sumitomo Wiring Systems acquired eight million shares in the automotive wire harness joint venture, Lucas SEI Wiring Systems, from partner LucasVarity, thereby dissolving the joint venture and turning the business into a wholly owned Sumitomo-affiliated subsidiary. Two years later, the company acquired Italy's Cabind and then, in 2002, completed its acquisition of Calsonic Kansei's automotive wiring harness business. SEI is also developing its technical expertise from materials to systems through a number of channels.

Better press on. The sense of order and peace in Japan is still overwhelming. It feels safe, too. Uniformed school children troop home alongside late night office workers. I've not heard a police siren all week. Alas, it's back to the UK tomorrow.

Matthew Beecham