International Newsmaker Q&A: Philippe Aumont

Jan. 1, 2020
Philippe Aumont, vice president of product planning at Faurecia, headquartered in Nanterre, France, speaks out.

Philippe Aumont, vice president of product planning at Faurecia, headquartered in Nanterre, France, speaks out.

How is the research conducted for obtaining sustainable materials and other systems suitable for manufacture? Do you send engineers into the jungle to search for wood species, for example, or does most of the technology originate from other inventors and vendors? 

Innovation is a key priority for Faurecia. We invest more than $1 billion annually in the total development chain up to production tooling, and have more than 3,000 engineers and technicians working on the next generation of automotive products. Inspiration for new materials is all around us and is influenced by our knowledge of material science and our vast experience.

Our research on renewable materials is driven by our efforts to achieve lightweight products, as well as our cost reduction strategies. Faurecia’s teams work through a network of suppliers, universities and other laboratories that specialize in advanced materials. Faurecia’s role in the process is to create a value chain – from the growth of the source material to industrial production to recycling.

Today, Faurecia is able to incorporate natural materials into its products, like a flax-based substrate on the Smart Fortwo instrument panel. By 2012, Faurecia will introduce a 100 percent bio-based plastic that can be used for automotive interiors.

How are decisions made regarding practicality vs. affordability?

Cost is key in automotive, especially today. Faurecia’s innovation process has been set up with decision gates or predefined milestones throughout the process that look at technical and business criteria. We realize that products have to be affordable to consumers, so in essence something is only practical if it’s affordable. So as we prioritize clean products – those that are lighter or help reduce emissions – we also have to make them affordable.

Clean can be achieved in a variety of ways. For instance, Faurecia was able to reduce the weight of an exhaust system that was recently put into production by 4 kilograms (about 8.8 pounds) by paying careful attention to every ounce of material thickness. We are also using compressed wood fiber materials on a variety of door panels to reduce cost and weight.

How receptive have OEMs been to embracing these various technologies? Is it a hard sell, or are they generally receptive to your offerings?

Each OEM has a different approach. However, they all want to differentiate their brands. Some even have their own eco-label like VW’s Blue Motion line. Most are very open to our ideas and we have good cooperation with our customers, even co-developing some technologies. However, cost is still critical and we have to help our customers to be cost competitive in the market. Where we can be cost neutral and provide weight or material benefits, the OEMs are extremely receptive.

You’ve been discussing the “premium trend and premium attitude.” What does this entail?

Two key segments are dominant in the auto industry right now – the low cost or affordable segment and the premium segment. China is becoming the leading market for premium. In fact, Audi sold more cars in China than in Germany last year. The premium trend marches on despite the recent (economic) crisis, especially in countries like China.

The Premium Attitude concept showcased Faurecia’s vision of what premium could be. This collection of innovations turned a lot of heads when we incorporated them into a 1970’s Tatra and offered a complete vehicle approach to premium. It triggered several co-development projects with OEMs, which will soon be in production.

But beyond concepts, Faurecia is a leader in the premium segment. One example is the new Audi A8 seat – it’s a 22-way seat and does everything!

How does your “intelligent product design and user interaction” fit into this?

User interaction is key since consumers interact with Faurecia’s products as soon as they sit in the vehicle. Smart integration of controls and switches in our seating and interior projects is an area where Faurecia is growing.

Faurecia’s Light Attitude concept incorporates a smart docking station into the cockpit that enables mobile devices to be powered and connect with the vehicle’s audio system. That’s an example of proposals we do as potential co-development with our customers; to facilitate user interaction into the car.

“Magic experience and surprise in use” is another goal. How is this achieved?

Surprise is premium. That surprise can be a new function, a new material, a new design. On the BMW X5, Faurecia provides a double-opening glove compartment with a power-operated magnetic opening and closing system. For the Mercedes S-class, we supply a multi-functional central armrest. It opens lengthwise toward either the driver or passenger to access one storage area or it tilts backward to reveal a large capacity air-conditioned storage compartment. Near the front of the console, a flip-back cover accesses a telephone key pad for convenience.

But premium and surprise are finding their way into new segments. The Ford Fiesta, for example, offers a soft touch instrument panel by Faurecia, which provides a new level of fit and finish for a small car in a very competitive segment.

The surprise effect sometimes requires tradeoffs in investment by OEMs in order to keep the product affordable for consumers. We are sure to see an increase in these types of features that help automakers differentiate their vehicles.

And, “obsession for detail.” What does this involve?

Obsession for detail is what differentiates Faurecia. It is a commitment that begins in the design phase – colors, materials, angles, touch and functionality. But Faurecia is an industrial company and that means that once a product is designed we have to be able to produce it in mass quantities. And each part has to be as perfect as the first.

As we manage the development and production chains, we have to remain focused on the details so that we can ensure the consistency of our products. An appearance approval process makes certain that the visual specifications established with our customer are respected at all stages of development and production.

Nanterre, France-based supplier Faurecia has annual worldwide sales of $17.6 billion – $2.6 billion in North America per 2008’s figures. It employs 58,000 people in 29 countries at 190 production facilities and 28 technical centers. More than 6,000 workers are on duty at 27 locations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Four domestic development centers are situated in Toledo, Ohio and the Michigan communities of Auburn Hills, Holland and Troy. Philippe Aumont is vice president of product planning.

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