Francisco Riberas (Madrid, 1964) visited Vitoria on January 29 to sign a technological agreement with the Basque Government, but his weekly route also included trips to the group's factories in the United States (United States) and the United Kingdom. With 106 centers in 22 countries, the president of Gestamp reviews the current situation of the automotive components industry. From Donald Trump to Brexit, passing through the diesel crisis, he analyzes everything without stridency.
China is a leader in the automotive industry and already produces one million electric cars a year. What are your plans in this market?
The presence in that country, which concentrates more than 28% of the world production of vehicles, is mandatory. It has gone from assembling 5 million units in 2005 to over 27 million. A bestial growth that has generated pollution problems in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
The Government of Beijing has reacted constructively with the electric car, which it defines as a "new energy vehicle", and produces more than 50% of the units driven by batteries.
How does Gestamp adapt to this situation?
With agreements with local automotive brands, based on joint developments with customers, as in the case of the boxes that protect the batteries, which add 350 kilos of weight to the car. These components, called battery box, are keys to improve safety, cool the battery and subtract weight from the car. In addition, in China, where we have 11 factories and two technology centers, we will explore new ways of collaboration with our partner Bhap [filial del fabricante de vehículos Baic].
Asia is in the crosshairs of all.
Gestamp wants to grow in this market with its Japanese customers, such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan, and with our shareholder Mitsui, who has already helped us break the barrier of distrust with Japan's industry. We have to accelerate in Asia with these allies. Japanese brands concentrate 29% of world production and the group will deepen their relationship with them.
And the priorities?
In addition to China and Japan, India in the economic car segment, Korea and Southeast Asia, from Indonesia to the Philippines and Vietnam. With Thailand there is already some operation.
The diesel crisis continues to set the agenda.
Gestamp supplies bodies to models of all engines. Diesel has been demonized and Europe produces 75% of these vehicles, which have little presence in the US. UU and China. Current models have fewer emissions than gasoline and there are no manufacturing alternatives in Europe, with no installed capacity in relation to the electric car. The industrial transition must be sensible. The assembly plants can not adapt these changes in motorization from one day to the next.
Can you advance any figure of the closing of 2018?
The group maintains the forecast of organic growth from 5% to 10%, always in a scenario of constant exchange rates in relation to the euro. At the end of September, the business rose 8.9% in this context, but the increase fell to 2.5%, after accounting for the changes affecting currencies. The presentation of results is scheduled for the end of this month.
And industrial plans?
Opening of four factories this year, in Morocco, Slovakia, Mexico and the United States. To total 112 centers in 23 countries. In 2019 the investment will be equivalent to 9% of sales [la facturación de 2017 superó los 8.200 millones].
How do you foresee the evolution of the automotive industry in the short term?
Enrollments are linked to the economy, but in recent years the growth of world GDP has been above the production of vehicles. There is a decoupling. Less cars are made than they should be, perhaps due to the maturation of some markets such as Europe, where the level of motorization is 700 cars per 1,000 inhabitants. So the growth of this industry will be linked to the increase in population in countries that also have low levels of motorization.
In China and India. Also in Morocco, where this year we opened the first factory, in Kenitra, to supply PSA. In this market we will look for more clients. Africa will have a tremendous importance in the coming years, it will change the rules of the game. The brands will open more factories in this continent and Gestamp will follow them. Nigeria, with a large population and natural resources, is another interesting investment destination.
What is your financial strategy?
That the net financial debt (NFD) is between 1.5 and 2 times the Ebitda (gross operating profit.) With the two bond issues and the presence on the stock market, Gestamp has improved the payment terms and the quality of the position financial as a whole.
He has a close relationship with CIE Automotive.
Through Acek, the investment company of the Riberas family. There is a strong link with the project from the beginning [Acek tiene el 14,09 % del capital] , but at the industrial level there are no synergies, nor possibilities of common growth. Each group will continue with its own strategy.
It is inevitable to talk about Brexit.
The United Kingdom is an importer of cars manufactured in Europe and also exports to this market. I do not see the interest in breaking this status quo. I hope that common sense prevails when the political effervescence comes down and the economy recovers the protagonism. And of the production of cars in Spain. It is a relevant sector in the national industry. You have to take care of it, without doing nonsense. By volume it can not compete with India and Brazil, but it has the capacity to manufacture more [2,8 millones de unidades en 2018, el noveno fabricante tras ser adelantado por el país carioca].
Can the political change in Brazil affect the sector?
I'm an optimist with reservations. Interest rates have fallen, which always favors consumption. The new government seems to be focused on economic growth.
Gestamp is also in the United States.
And it continues with its growth strategy, with investments in 2019 and 2020 in this regard. With objective data, it is the most important market for imports. Buy more cars than it produces. The Nafta problem is already negotiated and Europe will look for its own solution.
Do you see the possibility of entering the IBEX 35?
We have done what we announced. The value went up a lot in the first half of 2018 and then the sector's price fell, Gestamp less. We do not understand the reason. On the IBEX 35, by billing and employment [41.000 trabajadores] We could be, but it's not a problem either.