Raul Armenta
Plant Manager
Autoliv México

No Second Chance for Safety Products

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 09:43

Air bags and other safety features are not mandatory for Mexican vehicles and are included only as add-ons with an extra cost, resulting in a substantial percentage of Mexican buyers opting out of additional safety features. Markets such as Brazil have taken measures to make certain safety standards mandatory, such as air bags, but Mexico is yet to take this road. When Mexico does decide to increase vehicle safety requirements, a number of leading global safety equipment suppliers already have a strong incountry presence are ready to ramp up local market supply. With around 35% of the global market share in passive vehicle safety equipment, and 20% for active safety, Autoliv is one such supplier. “We have developed a strategic technology-centered vision in order to drive growth in the local market and continue supplying the OEMs now producing in Mexico for the export market,” says Raul Armenta, Plant Manager of Autoliv Mexico.

Autoliv has invested US$300 million in expanding its already significant footprint in Mexico. According to Armenta, its operations are expected to grow by 15-16% yearly. “Mexicans only have moderate awareness about the importance of safety features when purchasing a vehicle. The same is true for South America in general,” says Armenta. “Nevertheless, a five-star safety rating puts a vehicle ahead of the competition in terms of sales attraction. To achieve this, we have developed new active safety products that incorporate radar and other technologies to provide warnings before a crash or by affecting the vehicle’s braking and steering.” Advanced safety features such as Autoliv’s night vision equipment provide a clear picture on the dashboard of any object in front of the car, giving the driver greater control. Armenta explains that although this sort of technology might appear to be only accessible to the premium vehicle segment, it is actually relatively inexpensive. Collaboration with OEMs has also paved the way for new developments. “For example, Autoliv installed a pedestrian airbag with Volvo, which will protect a pedestrian hit by a car by releasing an external airbag to cover the windshield and lessen the impact.” When new technology becomes available, OEMs can reduce their own R&D costs. Autoliv holds 5% of patents relating to safety components worldwide and has technical R&D facilities spread across Sweden, China, India, and US. Although Autoliv has no R&D centers in Mexico yet, Armenta believes one will probably come in the next couple of years.

In terms of R&D, Autoliv globally invests approximately US$500 million a year, part of which is specifically allocated to testing, with specific software being used for simulation and data collection. “Our plant in Toluca has a SLED test facility where we can simulate an impact of up to 50km,” says Armenta. These data collection and software capabilities are key for product development as they trace product characteristics. “With this, we are able to provide customers with details including when the testing was done, who was present, and what the results were,” says Armenta. Autoliv has 20 SLED and eight full-scale crash testing systems, and its customers are able to test their first vehicles using the tracks, providing only 24% of the cost. The data gathered during these tests is essential to prevent future product recalls. Having a solid and innovative product portfolio and a good reputation in the recall area has led to new projects with OEMs. “Every Autoliv plant is equipped with its own laboratories and spare equipment in order to ensure effectiveness of the products,” says Armenta. Bearing in mind that a safety product does not get a second chance when placed in a vehicle, Armenta stresses that Autoliv sees it as essential that everything down to the smallest component functions properly, without exception. “It is more cost-effective for an OEM to produce state-of-the-art safety products and technology in cooperation with us. We are completely dedicated to safety so we have higher levels of technology, R&D, and personnel. This efficiency is making technology more readily available and cost-effective for OEMs,” states Armenta.

Now that the Swedish firm’s reputation as a global leader is becoming more established in Mexico, supply requests have been steadily been pouring in. “Our business with Toyota used to be practically non-existent, but now we are quoting more and more to them. We are also continuously receiving more requests for quotes from Nissan and Mazda,” says Armenta. Autoliv’s Toluca plant now supplies American, European, and Japanese OEMs in Mexico, with Chrysler, Ford, BMW, Volkswagen, and Nissan being its largest customers.