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Car interiors maker enjoys a smooth journey

21st Nov '16

UK company CT Automotive manufactures its kit in China. Naturally, its executives want to get there comfortably and efficiently

Company: CT Automotive Trading in: China Sector: Automotive interiors

If you drive a car there’s every chance your journeys are made more comfortable by CT Automotive.

The company designs and makes the unobtrusive interior details you’d only notice if they weren’t there – from air vents and storage bins to armrests and cup holders.

CT is one of the leading global suppliers of such automotive interior kinetic assemblies – as they known – and the company’s customer list reads like a roll call of leading car manufacturers. Think Nissan, Ford, General Motors, Audi, Volkswagen, Tesla.

The company registered turnover of $85 million (£60 million) in 2015, up from $15 million in 2006, and today employs around 2,500 people globally. Growth has been rapid and investing in wholly-owned manufacturing centres in China is at the heart of the company’s success, says group managing director Scott McKenzie.

“My advice to other companies setting up in China is that there isn’t any better way than doing it yourself.”

“From the early days we were able to differentiate from our competitors and become a global supplier from south-east Asia because of far greater manufacturing flexibility from design through to production,” he says.

CT Automotive runs two large factories in China – in Ganzhou and Shenzhen – with a third on the way, as well as facilities in the UK, Turkey and US.

McKenzie has lived and worked in China for 20 years and has witnessed considerable change in the business culture.


Inside story: CT Automotive supplies interior kinetic assemblies

“China – as with any fast-paced developing country – has seen great changes in the way that business is conducted. Contracts and agreements upheld by personal relationships are still the backbone of business, often reinforced on the golf course or in the restaurant, but are now far more official and contractually binding,” he says.

CT has strong relationships with suppliers and customers but has eschewed another well-travelled path many Western companies take, which is to partner with an established Chinese manufacturer. Instead, the company operates all its own facilities.

“We’ve always believed right from the beginning in vertical integration and doing it ourselves to ensure that we control not only cost but also quality,” says McKenzie. “My advice to other companies setting up in China is that there isn’t any better way than doing it yourself.”

Staff who straddle two cultures help. Experienced professionals from Europe, Asia and the US make up the management team, many of whom are expats living in China or locals with a European, Hong Kong or high-level Chinese education.

The result in the Chinese plants is a noticeably Western working culture; a small corner of China that feels forever England.

“Our main Shenzhen base is less than an hour from Hong Kong. Customers would arrive in that vibrant city and then head over to a facility on the Chinese mainland that was just like one they’d find in the UK or Germany, one that felt very familiar. It put them at ease.”

Over half of sales are made in Europe, with 30 per cent in the US and 9 per cent in Asia. With that sort of spread, the company relies on Cathay Pacific to make a big world smaller.


Sitting comfortably: customers include Citroën, Audi and Tesla

“It’s imperative as a growing global business that we can get to where we need to be, and Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong and London hubs work really well for us. For long haul especially it’s very competitive, particularly as we take advantage of the Corporate Travel Solutions scheme,” says McKenzie.

The scheme is free to corporate customers who spend more than £10,000 a year with Cathay Pacific, and gives access to competitive fares and online booking tools.

“It also gives us opportunities to join in membership of their Marco Polo privilege club, and access to some of the best and most comfortable airport lounges in the world,” says McKenzie. As head of CT Automotive, he appreciates a comfortable journey more than most.


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