5 minutes with ... Mr. Hiroyuki Kamata, General Manager of Toray Automotive Centre Europe (AMCEU)
In January 2019 the Japanese company Toray Industries Inc. opened the Automotive Centre Europe (AMCEU) in Neufahrn near Munich. We ask Mr Hiroyuki Kamata, General Manager, R&D, Advanced Materials at Toray AMCEU, why Bavaria was chosen as the location and what the company is aiming from here.
Toray already has several subsidiaries in Germany. Why did you choose Neufahrn north of Munich as the new location for the Automotive Centre Europe (AMCEU)?
The AMCEU was founded with the aim of becoming a central technology development location that contributes to the next generation of mobility in Europe, in particular innovation in automotive engineering, by using advanced materials and process technologies from the Toray Group.
Germany is promoting an active environmental policy to achieve a CO2-neutral society, and the development of sustainable mobility is one of its growth strategies in the transport sector. We chose Bavaria as a location not least because of the progress made in the automotive industry, which favours lively research and development. It also brings together innovative companies that actively use new materials and process technologies. With regard to the transport and residential infrastructure, we considered several locations and then decided on a property near the airport in a suburb of Munich.
The AMCEU as a technology location should not only offer offices, but also research and development facilities and exhibition rooms. This location met our requirements for sufficient space, flexibility and high expandability and so we finally decided on the NOVA Neufahrn industrial park.
You contacted Invest in Bavaria to set up the new location. How did you find out about Invest in Bavaria and how were you able to benefit from the support?
We heard about Invest in Bavaria through a real estate company. Invest in Bavaria has provided a great deal of support from establishing the AMCEU, deploying expats, and the opening ceremony. For example, when our expats began to set up their lives here, we received support in applying for residence and work permits and in finding accommodation. At the AMCEU opening ceremony, we welcomed guests of honour from Bavaria, the district and the city with the help of Invest in Bavaria and were able to establish initial contacts.
Invest in Bavaria also introduced us to the industrial cluster and suitable companies in our area, and we were advised about possible subsidies for business expansion. On the latter topic, we also visited the Invest in Bavaria office in Tokyo to learn more about subsidy opportunities in Bavaria. We are looking forward to receiving further support.
Which business areas are based at the AMCEU? What goals are you pursuing at the Bavarian location?
The AMCEU is the central technology location for the Toray Group in Europe and will mainly pursue the following goals in the next 5 to 10 years:
- To develop new automotive applications using innovative materials from the Toray Group.
- To enhance our strategies for developing the material application for the next generation mobility through deeper understanding of European auto and parts manufacturers.
- To raise the presence and awareness of the Toray Group in the European automotive industry
As is already generally known, the automotive industry is currently experiencing major changes of the kind that occur only once every 100 years. Technological innovation in the automotive sector is progressing in a new area called CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared & Services, Electric). However, advanced materials and process technology are essential to solve technical challenges in CASE.
At AMCEU, we will therefore build strong partnerships with automotive manufacturers and suppliers and establish a direct dialogue to identify concrete challenges and goals that need to be solved. In addition to promoting a material itself, we are also participating in concept testing phases and proposing design and use so as to make the best of the material properties.
There is also a showroom at AMCEU. Here we exhibit live examples of how Toray materials are used in practical applications in the areas of weight reduction, electrification, comfort and vehicle safety. The discussion with customers in the showroom also gives us clues to identify customer’s technical challenges and their solutions.
Cooperation with local industrial clusters, consortia and universities is also an important activity. Working with them, we will further develop advanced materials for the next generation of mobility technologies, such as UAM (Urban Air Mobility).
AMCEU as a German company aims to build a strong partnership so that customers and partners can call us first whenever they encounter the technical issues of the materials and need solutions.
Almost two years have already passed since the opening of the AMCEU. What experiences have you had since then?
In working on various development projects with customers, the fact that the AMCEU is in Bavaria substantially improved the efficiency in communication with customers compared to when we were in Japan.
Various development projects are currently underway with automotive manufacturers and suppliers. The proximity to customers and partners is a crucial advantage for us. For example, a sample can be created as a prototype in the morning and a meeting can be held at the customer’s office in the afternoon on the same day. It is also possible for customers to come to AMCEU so we can examine and discuss the samples together. It has also become much easier to find partners and drive forward joint developments with leading local engineering firms.
How many people are employed at the AMCEU and what nationalities are represented there?
At present, the AMCEU employs a good dozen full-time staff, almost half of whom come from Germany, and others from India and Japan. The expats from Japan are technical experts in various fields such as polymers, carbon fibres, films and fibres so that AMCEU can cope with various technical challenges.
We plan to increase the number of engineers employed locally and further expand our research and development capability in future. Bavaria is a region with many manufacturers, engineering offices, universities and research institutes. I think this is also beneficial for recruitment.
Are there big differences between Bavaria and Japan in terms of the working culture? What do you particularly appreciate about the Bavarian way of doing business?
This is my third time as an expat in Germany, and again I have noticed some differences through my work with German employees and business partners. Let me give you three examples:
First, if you do not express your opinion clearly and deliberately, your counterpart will not understand you properly. Sometimes the Japanese around me misunderstand that I am disputing, but in Germany, logical assertions are seen more as a discussion than a dispute. Once the meeting is over, there are no feeling of discontent and the other person is not left with a bad taste in their mouth. When working in Germany it is very important to be able to distinguish between dispute and logical argumentation.
Another difference in Germany is much less number of copies (CC) in emails. In Germany, the tasks and responsibilities of the individual employees are clearly assigned, so that the communication loop does not necessarily have to be extended. Therefore bilateral communication between the directly interested parties can be maintained. In contrast to Japan, it is rather unusual in Germany to inform other people by copying them at “just in case” basis.
On the other hand, there is also an advantage of this Cc culture in Japan. Under the confidentiality secured, sharing the information among relevant colleagues could perhaps create impetus for a new development or help with a multidimensional overview of market needs. I don't mean that the Japanese method cannot be used, but that hybrid thinking is more important in my opinion.
Thirdly, planning is very important in Germany. This means that the purpose, task, schedule and rationality must be clarified first. However, the first plan is not final, and it is often the case that the priority is changed flexibly and the plan is boldly adapted according to the situation. In Japan, there is a tendency to stick to the original plan and minimise changes. For the Japanese, Germany’s flexible style is therefore sometimes initially confusing.
Bavaria offers many opportunities away from working life, how do you like to spend your free time? Do you have certain favourite places in Bavaria?
Bavaria is a very attractive state for outdoor enthusiasts like me, because it is relatively easy to practice various sports like trekking and skiing.
I play tennis all year round with my friends and acquaintances at the Rothof in Munich.
When winter comes to an end, I not only play tennis, but also go mountain biking in the forests outside Munich, for example to Schleißheim Castle or the Forstenrieder Park via riverside of Isar.
Trekking in the German Alps is also quick and easy in Bavaria. From Munich, I spent a lot of time in the region around Mittenwald, because I can easily reach the more than 2,000 metre high mountains there. In the future I would like to ride my mountain bike on a trail and go hiking on the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze.
Do you have any tips for Japanese companies interested in locating in Europe?
We have benefited greatly from the services of Invest in Bavaria. This allows you to get advice on various laws such as environmental regulations, health and safety and labour management. Important contacts to organisations and experts can also be established in this way. I recommend that you make extensive use of the business development program, as it offers good support in presenting suitable business partners and participating in networks such as industrial clusters.
Bavaria, whose economic power is comparable to that of the economically most important EU member states, will continue to maintain high standards in terms of advanced technological development, industrial production, education and security.
This makes Bavaria one of the top business locations in Europe.