Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Last year was a terrible one for most U.S. auto suppliers, but while some entered bankruptcy and many others struggled to stay solvent, a few managed to prosper.

Aisin Group, headed by Japan’s Aisin Seiki Co. Ltd., announces enviable 2007 global and North American sales figures at the SAE World Congress here.

Global sales rose 11.6% from 2006 to just over $20 billion, while North American sales increased 7.6% to $3.7 billion.

A major supplier to Toyota Motor Corp., Aisin clearly seems to be riding on the coattails of the auto maker’s success. Aisin’s worldwide employment grew 11.4% to about 66,000 workers in 2007, while North American staff increased 9% to 9,789.

“We showed modest growth and held our own in 2007, despite difficult economic conditions,” says Aisin World Corp. of America President Don Whitsitt.

AWA recently established a new plant in Stockton, CA, that manufactures door frames and expanded an aluminum die-casting facility in Clinton, TN, by 250,000-sq.-ft. (23,000-sq.-m)

Aisin traditionally has been known for producing complex drivetrain components, such as the now-famous 8-speed automatic transmission sourced to Toyota’s Lexus luxury division.

But at SAE, the supplier is touting many new diverse technologies, from a 3-stage variable discharge oil pump that improves fuel efficiency to a navigation system and “smart” head restraints.

Whitsitt enjoys pointing out some of Aisin’s more glamorous components, such as an electric rear seat that reclines like a business-class airline seat and is available in the top-of-the-line Lexus LS460 sedan.

“The ‘wow’ factor is a wonderful thing,” he says, while acknowledging auto makers increasingly are focused on value propositions.

He then steers a reporter over to displays of the supplier’s highly compact 6-speed front-drive transmissions and braking systems, which have enjoyed strong growth.

Aisin’s medium-torque capacity 6-speed FWD transmission was the world’s first, Whitsitt says. Today, it’s in use globally on a variety of vehicles, from the Volkswagen Golf and Passat to the Mini Cooper.

dwinter@wardsauto.com