We spoke to automotive parts manufacturer UTIL Group about the shift in supply and demand in the automotive industry in Europe and beyond
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Matthew Taylor
The European manufacturing industry has faced incredible challenges as a result of a shocking 2020.
With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe and causing disruption to logistics and services within almost every sector, Italian automotive manufacturing was not saved the brunt of the impact. For the industry, the pandemic spelt problems with transport as well as sales.
However, the human capacity for endurance and adaptation is truly admirable. COVID-19 spurred forward the necessity for maximised digital communication – a element of work that companies embodied and ensured. The restrictions on travel and person-to-person proximity, as well as the requirement for high standards of safety, were met by most with immediate importance, with a focus on tackling this challenge for the best of their employees.
But it isn’t just the pandemic that has changed the industry.
In recent years there has been shift of an ideological nature. The growth and movement of automotive manufacturers to invest in the research, design, and production of electrical or hybrid vehicles has risen tremendously, as a result of both the demand and necessity of greater environmental efforts.
Many automotive parts manufacturers have followed suit to provide automotive companies with the various bits and pieces to bring about the production of such electric vehicles – it is these parts manufacturers, adapting to the rise in demand to supply electric vehicles, that keep the industry’s wheels turning.
Fernando Bertoni is the President and CEO of one of such company – UTIL Group.
“This is a unique time,” he begins. “COVID-19 has changed the industry. In the automotive space there is already a big transition. This transition has shifted from a total fossil fuel-based industry to one encompassing the necessary sustainability sphere.
“Look at history, some of the biggest, best, and more innovative and sustainable ideas in the industrial space and beyond have come out of people working through times of crisis. We are living in the midst of a great crisis, yet the chance to better industry and business practices comes from this.”
Bertoni started his career as a corporate lawyer in New York in the 1990s, then went to work in the energy sector for General Electric. Here, he spent a successful 18 years in multiple positions (functional and operational roles) and had the opportunity to learn from some of the “best in the class” professionals in the global industrial space. After GE, Bertoni moved into the operational side of private equity where he ran multiple companies as a result. Bertoni’s career path has seen him spend an impressive 25 years in the industry space, covering a number of countries including France, the US, Brazil, Argentina, and Italy – the latter where he currently works and resides.
UTIL Group manufactures parts for automotive companies and – among other products – designs, produces, and sells metallic brake pads that support the braking systems of vehicles – a service that it has been providing since 1959. The organisation provides quality premium fine blanking backing plates for vehicle braking systems and is expanding into a range of diversified products. By this, UTIL means to produce an array of products and components for a wider range of applications within and beyond the automotive industry.
Expanding the portfolio
UTIL has approximately 900 employees worldwide, and sells to a large number of customers globally, including some of the largest companies in the automotive and engineering space, such as Continental, ZF Group, CBI Hitachi, Honda, Bosch, and Driv/Tenneco.
“We like to define UTIL as a pocket-sized multinational company,” Bertoni muses.
UTIL’s project portfolio is one aspect that truly shows the company’s ability to achieve quality results in the manufacturing industry.
Not only does it produce brake pads and other parts to the newest and biggest platforms: BMW, Volkswagen, Tesla and Porsche, or contribute towards the completion of new electrical Maserati models, UTIL is a key provider to other leading players in the industry and beyond.
“UTIL is now supplying brake support for three of the largest electrical vehicle businesses: Volkswagen MEB, Tesla and Porsche,” Bertoni elaborates.
“The former is for the Tesla Model Y, a mid-size SUV launched in China about a month ago. We won the project last year and that model is utilising our technology – something we are very proud of. The second is again in the e-car sphere, for an electrical series of Porshe that also utilises our brake pad technology. Yet on top of this we are also diversifying our products.”
UTIL is reaching into alternative areas of automotive parts manufacturing such as the production of exhaust system components, while also exploring beyond supplying the automotive sphere into the construction and energy markets.
“We are incredibly proud of this because construction a very difficult market to enter into,” Bertoni continues.
“We produce a component that goes into the scaffolding system during construction, so UTIL is now a part of helping build new houses and repair buildings.”
It is this innovative exploration and incorporation of multiple services in a variety of markets that keeps UTIL Group above and apart from its competition in the manufacturing industry.
Internal investments have also been a major factor towards the improvement of the company’s products and services.
“During 2020, we made the single largest investment that the Group has made in the last 15 years or more,” Bertoni tells us.
“We decided that it was the right time to embark upon a significant investment, so we invested over 5.2 million euros in new high tonnage equipment that would allow us to improve our industrial efficiency here in Europe and North America.”
This equipment has radically improved UTIL’s ability to serve its industry customers and clients, through the improved fluidity of production and the maintenance of quality control.
2021 and beyond
UTIL Group remains a strong and driven company heading through 2021.Today, the firm remains ahead of its competition through its three major advantages: technical depth of knowledge and know-how – utilising the most experienced professionals of the industry to work with the various products they offer. Global footprint – allowing the consistency of quality and service all across the world through its various sites and localised logistics and supply chain leadership. And lastly its application of innovative methods and adaptation, helping the company stay at the fore of manufacturing, within the automotive industry or beyond.
For the future, UTIL is geared towards steady expansion, and answering the increasing complexity in the automotive industry and beyond. Bertoni ends on a cautiously optimistic note.
“There is going to be a big transition in the combination of traditional energy and renewable sources. Hybrids and electrical vehicles will dominate the automotive space in the decade to come, and we are here looking forward to being a significant part of that change.”