Remember that television show “Knight Rider,” where the car talked to the driver? The innovative Kostal Group is bringing a 1980s entertainment concept closer to 21st century reality. Further, it has advanced its mission by establishing outposts throughout the world. Kostal North America is one of its most successful, reports Dan Harvey.
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Attached to an international company headquartered in Germany, Kostal North America, which is based in Troy, Mich., provides the most advanced automobile electrical systems.
Established in 1981, Kostal North America is but one business segment of an enormously successful organization that recognized the enormous potential residing in North American markets, particularly in the automotive segment. Recent revenues range in the $70 million range, indicates Octavio Martinez, director of sales, Kostal North America.
Initially set up in Schaumberg, Ill. – and one of the parent company’s first overseas subsidiaries – Kostal North America represents the parent company’s North American business center for sales, engineering and design. In this capacity, it works closely with the Kostal manufacturing facility (Kostal Mexicana) located in Queretaro, Mexico.
The parent company, The Kostal Group, is a privately owned, family managed company that develops and manufactures some of the world’s most advanced electronic and electro-magnetic products. Customers include world-class industrial companies and – as this base relates to the North American enterprise – it encompasses the leading automobile manufacturers, and even their sub-suppliers.
Kostal Group has 31 locations throughout the world (which takes in 17 countries and four continents) and employs nearly 10,000 people. Its four divisions include automobile electrical, industrial electronics, connectors and test technology.
Kostal North America resides in the automotive-based division. Martinez describes the company’s entrance into North America. “Kostal’s North American activities began in 1973, in Mexico,” he says. “Basically, the company was following Volkswagen. We experienced steady growth in the region, and that compelled us to open an office in the United States in 1981.”
The U.S. operations, once headquartered in Schaumberg, later moved to Troy, close to the Detroit area and the automotive industry. That move, as Martinez informs, signaled expansion of both the division and the parent company’s U.S. operations. “Today, the Troy facility is actively engaged in sales, engineering and project management, and this involves the major carmakers such as Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors, Ford, BMW and Volkswagen,” he relates.
The subsidiary also services tier-one suppliers such as Delphi Automotive Systems and Visteon Corporation, among others, with its world-class automotive products. “What we provide relates to ergonomics and this includes steering column modules, electro-mechanics and electronics,” comments Martinez.
Specifically, products include modules (steering column, door and roof); electronics (seat heat, seat memory, rain sensor, and power window/pinch protection), and electro-mechanics (rocker/push switches, rotary switches, power seat switches, turn signal, wash and wipe, power mirror switch, message center, and ignition switch).
For more than 50 years, Kostal has delivered steering column switches. In Europe, Kostal is the market leader, possessing more than a 30-percent share in the product sector. But its entire product range extends from combined steering column switches for compact cars, through to “high-end” steering column modules for premium class vehicles, as the company informs.
As far as mechatronic integration, in addition to standard componentry (e.g. such as direction indicator switches, windscreen wiper switches and rotary couplers) Kostal’s latest complex steering column modules also contain electronics to monitor functions such as the steering angle, as well as information on the controls mounted around the steering wheel (via the LIN bus). These electronics also include cruise control switches and gear selector systems.
We’re talking about intuitive technology that helps the car think along with the driver. Consider the company’s sensor technology. For instance, Kostal’s steering angle sensor – which covers the entire range of requirements in ESP and AFS, or active front steering systems – provides support for active driver safety systems, sleep detection and parking aids.
For the North American market, such products are manufactured at the Mexico facility. “The Troy site is not a manufacturer,” says Martinez. “Rather, it focuses on sales, engineering and design.”
The move to Troy involved an investment of nearly $13.6 million, a price tag that paid off for the surrounding community, as it created more than 200 high-technology job positions. Further, the move – and expansion – provided Kostal with one of three new international research and development “centers of excellence,” as Martinez describes.
Partnership is both a key phrase and a key differentiator, indicates Martinez. “Our work with clients is based on establishing long-term relationships.”
That has helped the company remain a robust enterprise, even when confronted by the economic cataclysm of recent years. “We’ve experienced 15 percent growth year after year,” relates Martinez. “That’s because, during the economic crisis, we’ve protected our most important assets, one of which is engineering. In addition, we’ve strengthened our customer support.”
An additional differentiator is quality, which resonates throughout the entire international enterprise. Indeed, quality forms the basis of all Kostal activities – and it ensures that each employee (whether in Europe or North America) comprehends that they play a crucial part in this effort. Indeed, this effort – bottom-lined by customer satisfaction – involves Zero Defect Quality and continuous improvement, as well as quality fostered by organizational leadership. Such conscientiousness resulted in numerous awards and certifications, including:
- A2LA Certification for Test Lab
- ISO/TS16949 Certification
- QS 9000 Certification
- VDA 6.1
- Ford Q1 Status
- Ford Full Service Supplier
- Ford Self Certified Supplier
- GM Supplier of the Year
Such recognition only underscores how Kostal’s advanced experience – from a design and engineering standpoint—assures highly functional, state-of-the-art products characterized by optimal quality levels. As the company indicates, the combined engineering resources of the parent company and Kostal North America leads to customized product solutions that engender customer satisfaction.
“Kostal is a very diverse company that provides the right touch for the customer, who enjoys the benefits of the capabilities of a large organization,” says Martinez. “We offer high-end technology, which we make affordable to even low-end customers.”
As the company relates, engineering and design tasks – and this includes Kostal North America – are supported by CAD/CASE tools (e.g., CATIA, Unigraphics, I-DEAS [with full 3D-model and simulation capabilities], Mentor Graphics, Innovator, PC-LINT, DA-C), the KOSTAL PRO 2000 Program Management tool, as well as a fully equipped on-site test-lab and on-site model and prototype-shop.
Customer demands are ever growing and increasingly challenging. They demand the most innovative technology. But needs can’t be met by technology alone. It requires a motivated and ambitious roster of employees. Kostal established that precedent in Europe. Kostal North America brings that tradition to the United States.