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Sachin Lawande is Visteon's new President and CEO.

Visteon's new CEO targets connected-car leadership

Sachin Lawande became Visteon Corp.'s President and Chief Executive Officer on June 29, 2015. An electrical engineer, he was previously President of Harman International's Infotainment division and holds four patents in communications software. The company Lawande takes over from retiring CEO Tim Leuliette had $7.5 billion in revenue in 2014, with more than 11,000 employees in 21 countries. He sat down with Automotive Engineering for his first media interview since becoming CEO, at Visteon's Van Buren Township, MI headquarters.

Q: Visteon has fewer product lines after selling, since 2012, its lighting business, its interiors division, and its Halla Visteon climate control ownership stake. Is the remaining product lineup strong enough to build a solid foundation moving forward?

The foundation will be built on competence in electronics and software. If you think about where the industry is going, cars are increasingly becoming mobile platforms on wheels. And that is driving a tremendous amount of innovation to elicit safer driving, to assist with active control of the vehicle, and to connect the vehicle to the Internet. Growth is happening in the space where we now compete, and we expect that growth to continue.

When you look at electronics as a share of what the automotive industry buys, the growth will continue even if the overall number of vehicles being built were to stay flat or even reduce. Ten years ago, electronics was 20% of the industry’s total buy. Today, electronics is about 30% of the industry’s total buy, and it’s expected to grow to 40 to 45% in the next decade.

Q: How will Visteon be market-positioned under your leadership?

We want to be known as the cockpit electronics user-experience company. If you get into a vehicle and you have a great user experience with the information displays, with the instrument cluster, with the head-up display, and with the infotainment, the first thought that should come to mind is that the electronics for this cockpit user experience were likely done by Visteon. That’s what we’re targeting, and this cannot be done without being an innovation and technology leader. So we will be very focused on developing and building our own intellectual property as it relates to infotainment, instrument clusters, head-up displays, and connectivity to the Internet.

As we move forward, we’ll also focus our electronics and software development on driver monitoring and other safety-minded capabilities, vehicle-to-vehicle/vehicle-to-infrastructure communications as well as advanced voice recognition and gesture support capability.

Q: Will Visteon add to its engineering workforce?

We’re a company with roughly 3000 engineers all over the world today. I do anticipate that we will be growing our engineering footprint as we go forward, but we will be very responsible managers in the sense that we will recruit as we are able to afford the additional expense. But the intent is clearly to do so.

The intent is also to do more of the high-end engineering in the U.S. This is where high-tech happens. High-tech is not happening in emerging countries necessarily. One of the goals is to contribute in our own way to the revitalization of the automotive industry in North America, and Detroit in particular. Think about the potential that we have to transform mobility. That story and that potential is what’s going to attract talent.

Q: How hands-on will you be with Research & Development and the various engineering teams?

If you ask them, they’ll say I’m getting too involved [laughs]. My background is technology and my passion is technology, so even though that’s not my job anymore I still keep up with it. Visteon has never had a formal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) position. We’ll have a CTO. We’re shifting from being program-based engineering to being technology-based engineering and that reflects the need for a CTO.

This will be a technology-led company. For us to be a really different company and be competitive, we cannot just be a company that’s different superficially. We really have to be different down to our bone, so every job has to be recast from the lens of ‘if I were to use technology, how can I make it better?’ So I want a technology Chief Financial Officer. I want a technology Chief Human Resources Officer. I want technology marketing. We have to move the entire organization to start thinking about technology across everything we do.

It’s not just technology in the product. It’s also technology in how we build the product and technology in how we do all of the other things. I want the company to evolve so that when customers look at Visteon, they see a technology leader. And that technology leader is also customer-focused, cost-focused, fast to market, and global in its thinking.

Q: What’s Visteon’s future product strategy?

We have six product lines: instrument clusters, head-up displays, information displays, infotainment, telematics, and audio. Today, the industry’s OEMs are still offering consumers these products separately. But we will eventually end up with a holistic experience driven from an integrated, single device. As these products get integrated, we can offer more seamless integration between the functions. And that will mean we can make better choices about what information to show on the head-up display versus the cluster versus the center stack.

The job of the cockpit electronics brain is to fuse everything together so that best judgements can be made for driver-driven vehicles, semi-autonomous vehicles, and eventually fully autonomous vehicles. That’s a complex task. But that’s the vision, and in the next 10 years we want to be known as a global leader.

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