Those who know a vehicle's inner workings may know GKN's components. GKN serves its customers through its four divisions; Driveline, Aerospace, Land Systems, and Powder Metallurgy. Core products include driveshafts, propshafts, torque management, and chassis components for light vehicles and trucks; airframe and engine structures for aircraft; axles, wheels, and tractor attachments for agricultural, construction, and other off-highway vehicles. Powder Metallurgy makes sintered components and metal powders used in engine, transmission, body, and chassis production. GKN has operations in more than 30 countries, and its customers include most of the top vehicle and aircraft manufacturers around the world.
As a supplier for global vehicle and aircraft manufacturers, GKN's fortunes are closely tied to those of its customer markets (Automotive, Aerospace, and LandSystems) and the company has benefitted as production in these markets has increased in recent years. Conversely, GKN could not escape the effects of the global economic slowdown on these markets and the company posted losses in 2008 and 2009 in addition to seeing a drop in 2009 sales. Rebounding in 2010, GKN's turnaround was due to a combination of cost reductions, restructuring, and increased demand from its customer markets. GKN's current strategy hinges on keeping costs low while serving markets that show the best growth potential.
Since late 2008, the company has undergone a restructuring designed to slash costs; it eliminated approximately 7,000 positions worldwide and closed 15 facilities. Its 2010 restructuring effort culminated in forming the Land Systems division, which combines GKN's former OffHighway (agricultural and mining equipment), AutoStructures, and Industrial and Distribution Services businesses. The segment's mainstay markets include agricultural, mining, and construction equipment serving such customers as John Deere and Caterpillar. However, GKN sees future growth in the defense vehicles, mass transit, and renewable energy sectors. In mid-2011 it inked a €195 million (about $275 million) deal to purchase Stromag Holding from a private equity firm and group of investors and management. The German maker of clutches and brakes serves end-markets comparable to GKN as well as renewable energy industries.
Strategically, the company is also focused on creating efficiencies in both operations and technology and recent actions in GKN's largest segment, Driveline (45% of total sales), represent this strategy in action. Although more than 80% of its sales come from North America and Europe, GKN has been moving more of its global manufacturing operations to high-growth markets with lower production costs, primarily Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe. GKN has already beefed up driveline operations in Brazil, Poland, and Slovenia and is building its production capacity for automotive components in China and India.
To that end, the company has extended its China-based joint venture with partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) for 50 years. The companies began production of sideshafts at a new plant in Wuhan, and plan to open another plant in northern China's Changchun (a center for the country's automotive industry).
On the product side, Driveline has been pursuing technology improvements to position itself for future growth such as its eDrive components and systems, which include hybrid axles and electric and hybrid transmissions. Strong growth in demand for four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles led GKN to acquire Getrag Driveline Products in 2011. GKN's driveline business added the all-wheel-drive (AWD) components business of Getrag, including power transfer and rear-drive units for AWD vehicles, as well as final drive units for rear-wheel drive vehicles. Driveline customers include nearly every major automotive OEM, such as Fiat, Chrysler, General Motors, Ford, Renault/Nissan, and Volkswagen (its largest single customer generating 15% of sales).
GKN's Aerospace segment also performed well, and added $3.5 billion in new business for 2011. The segment grew despite pressures on defense budgets as non-military business took up the slack. Hoping to grow this segment even further, in late 2012 GKN acquired Volvo's Aero subsidiary for SEK 6.9 billion (about $1 billion).
The company's Powder Metallurgy segment is the world's largest manufacturer of sintered components. The company creates the metal powder and then creates automotive components from that powder through its two subsidiaries - Hoeganaes and GKN Sinter. The Powder Metallurgy segment grew by 11% in 2011 despite the shutdown of one plant after two accidents led to the deaths of five employees.