STOCKHOLM – Autoliv Inc., the world’s largest maker of automotive air bags and seat belts, has about $1 billion to spend in Japan and fast-growing segments such as electronic accident prevention, according to Chief Executive Officer Jan Carlson.
“We’re better equipped to do acquisitions, and we are looking to do more of them ahead,” Carlson said in an interview Monday at the company’s Stockholm headquarters. “We have the strongest balance sheet we’ve ever had.”
Autoliv is interested in buying companies in Japan, where its 20 percent market share in the country is lower than elsewhere, Carlson said.
Autoliv has a 35 percent share globally, including about 40 percent in Europe and North America.
The company is holding “loose discussions” with potential sellers, Carlson said, without identifying candidates.
Global car production has rebounded from the recession, spurring sales of seat belts and air bags. About 70.3 million cars will be built in 2010, up from 57.4 million last year, IHS Automotive forecast. Production may surpass 91 million in 2015, the industry analyst predicts.
Outside Japan, Autoliv is mainly pursuing acquisitions of companies making “active-safety” products, which include radar and other electronic devices that help prevent accidents, Carlson, 50, said.
While this segment’s volume is many times smaller than the market for seat belts and air bags, its growth pace will be “much faster,” he said, adding Autoliv this year will sell almost $100 million worth of active-security products.
“We would like to do an acquisition in active safety, but the difficulty is there aren’t many sellers,” he said. “They probably see the same growth potential in this area as we do.”
Autoliv has the capacity to spend about $1 billion on acquisitions by using existing cash and borrowing funds while still not “burdening the debt grade too much,” Carlson said. Its net debt at the end of September was $338 million, down from $878 million a year earlier.
Autoliv expects fourth-quarter revenue to grow 15 percent and the operating margin to hit 12 percent, Carlson said, maintaining an earlier forecast.
Brazil represents one of Autoliv’s biggest growth opportunities, Carlson said, noting that from 2014 all cars sold in that country must be equipped with front air bags. Autoliv, whose Brazilian market share is between 40 and 45 percent, said last month it has started construction of an air bag inflator factory near Sao Paulo.
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