Aisin branching out in U.S.

Posted on April 11, 2013

Supplier has invested $120M in Mich. facility

Aisin Seiki, a leading Japanese transmission manufacturer, came to the U.S. in Toyota Motor Corp.’s wake.

Part-owned by Toyota, Aisin has built factories in North America to supply the automaker with components and it has constructed a proving ground in Fowlerville, northwest of Detroit, where Toyota can test models it develops in nearby Ann Arbor.

With other automakers and suppliers increasingly using the 870-acre proving ground, Aisin is investing $12 million this year to add roads and special surfaces, bringing its total investment in the facility to $120 million.

The Detroit News spoke with John Koenig, head of sales and marketing at Aisin World Corp. of America.

Q.Would you talk about Aisin and what it makes?

A. Aisin components are in almost every automobile company’s cars. We’re the fifth-largest automotive supplier in the world, with $29 billion in sales in 2011 and $30.1 billion in 2012.

We have about 170 companies, manufacturing and engineering sites around the world, including 32 sites in the U.S. We have about 80,000 employees globally, of which about 10 percent are in North America.

We’re the biggest transmission manufacturer in the world, both automatic transmissions and manual. We sell transmissions to Toyota, to General Motors and to Chrysler. We also provide almost every car company all sorts of body parts, from sunroofs to external door handles.

Q. Why and how did Aisin come to North America?

A. The reason Aisin came to North America in the first place was to support Toyota. As Toyota began to build plants in North America in 1984, Aisin followed a few years later and established a manufacturing site in Indiana. Aisin’s grown from there.

Presently Toyota’s about 65-70 percent of our total business in North America, GM is about 15 percent, Chrysler’s about 10 percent, Honda’s about 5 percent, and Nissan and a few others account for the last 5 percent. We do about $100 million in business in the aftermarket.

Q. What activities do you have in Michigan?

A. Our U.S. headquarters are in Plymouth. Our technical center is also located in Plymouth. We have a proving ground in Fowlerville. We have three proving grounds altogether — two in Japan, and one in Michigan.

Most of our engineering is done in Japan, but in the last five or six years we’ve started to establish technical centers outside of Japan. The technical center in Michigan, linked with the proving ground in Michigan, has increased our ability to do a lot of R&D in North America and not have to rely on Japan. All the engineering on some components can be done locally.

Q. Looking ahead, what are Aisin’s plans in the U.S.?

A. We have a long-range plan to grow our business in North America. That means continuing to serve Toyota, No. 1. Considering that GM and Chrysler are our next two-biggest clients, continue to focus on them. We did supply components to Ford in the past and we’d love to do that again. So we’re always knocking on GM’s, Ford’s and Chrysler’s doors, and we’re going after Honda and Nissan business in North America.

Q. There are examples at the Fowlerville proving grounds of non-automotive products Aisin makes. Are they sold here?

A. Aisin has a Lifestyle and Amenity division that produces things like gas-heat pumps that can cool or heat a structure using natural gas. Another thing we sell in the U.S. is the Toyota sewing machine. It says Toyota on the machine but it’s manufactured now by Aisin.

The last thing I’ll talk about is the shower-toilets that are so popular in Japan. They basically combine the functions of a bidet in a toilet seat. Most people in North America don’t know what the product is, what it’s for, or how it’s used. I think ultimately it’ll be successful, but it’s going to take a lot of marketing. We’ve shown shower-toilets at builder shows. Builders of high-end homes seem to understand the product.

Christine Tierney, The Detroit News.