William R Jackson, president and CEO of Rockford Corporation, speaks on the company's growth strategy, building brand recall, in-car entertainment in autonomous cars and bringing music to motorcycle riders.
High-performance audio systems manufacturer Rockford Fosgate has entered the Indian market in partnership with Blaupunkt. William R Jackson, president and CEO of Rockford Corporation, speaks to Shourya Harwani on the growth strategy, building brand recall, in-car entertainment in autonomous cars and bringing music to motorcycle riders.
How did you zero in on Blaupunkt as your partner for the India market?
We had a relationship with Blaupunkt in India that we started through some OEM business that we have done in the past with Blaupunkt in the United States. We were looking for co-operation with them, and that is in essence how we connected with Dr Lars Placke (Blaupunkt’s CEO) and we started seeding our products about a year ago.
Right now, the sales model is that the initial volumes will come in from the aftermarket. Gradually, will you be looking at the OEM segment?
When you look at developing markets and if we use India as an example, you have a lot of cars here that are, we’ll call them empty. They don’t have a radio, they don’t have a sound system. A large percentage of those cars are still available in the market. So, as we move on to the aftermarket side, you’re going to see some additional opportunities open up into that. I won’t call it a direct factory fit, but I will call it a regional report on the fit into the car market. I think that will be the perfect segway for Rockford to get started in the OEM business.
We will also look at our existing OEM relationships. We have a relationship with Nissan; we have a relationship with Mitsubishi in Japan and Nissan just acquired a large percentage. So, there is a good synergy there and I’m sure we will be talking about what platforms we can apply to the Indian markets from the OEM perspective.
So globally, you have been in partnership with these companies for factory fitted products?
Yes, correct. We are line-level-fitted for parts that are made in Japan for example. If they are made in Japan or the United States, those are all fitted with Rockford systems at the factory.
Can you provide an overview on the size of the global in-car audio market and where does Rockford stand at present?
It’s pretty hard to put a number on it because if you look at the global car infotainment market, it is fairly large. A big competitor like Harman has several billion dollars in revenue in just the OEM infotainment business. Rockford is a small company – we’re under US $100 million in revenue. If we look at our share in the amplifier and speaker business in the United States, we are very strong in that aftermarket side. We’re not a Harman, but more of an independent provider of the aftermarket and then we have this OEM business that we have had for over 20 years.
Apart from the US, which are the major markets for Rockford Products globally?
We have a strong business in the UAE which continues to do well. We’re doing well in China and we have long-term relationships in Japan. Singapore is a really good market for us. We’re doing very well in Australia and New Zealand and they continue to be good growth markets for us. Latin America also continues to be a strong market.
What is your timeline for India as a market? How do you see the results coming in?
Yes. I want to call us a tortoise in a race. We want to be very methodical in our work. With our distributors, we try to give them the resources and tools to grow the brand. We typically look at a three- to five-year business plan. We got a year to set up, prep it, get it ready to get off. So, now we’re looking at how we can continue to grow the brand, and increase the penetration into the Indian market. So, it is really a three-year thing. You cannot look at anything shorter than that because it takes time.
"Rockford is in India for the long haul."
If we look at India, it has so much potential to be a really solid market, both aftermarket and OEM. The only other market that has this type of growth potential is China.
If you look at the number of cars coming in, the volume. In India, it is a big opportunity. From a cultural standpoint, music and entertainment in the car is important to the consumer. The Chinese consumer is different and the music styles are different. So, I think what we’re trying to do with our brand, India has got a terrific market. I think our brand is going to do well here.
With the addition of India, how do you see that growth pickup in say the next three-year window that you have?
How big can India be? To put a number on it, you can go back and look at how Pioneer, Harman and some of these companies have done. They have done 10 or 12 to 15 million dollars in revenue, so there’s a large potential there. Our number could be in the millions, it should be and that’s what everybody wants to achieve. We want to grow in the right way and do the right things because we’re in it for the long haul. Instead of just getting a big order, selling a bunch of products and going away, we are looking to build a foundation and grow it. That’s why we’re here.
When it comes to in-car audio products, brand recall is critical. How do you plan to tackle the challenge of creating a brand image?
Typically in markets in which you start to emerge, you’re going to work on getting exposure for your brand, getting your product into cars. Let people experience that lifestyle, figure out what a value proposition your product is and start building it. It’s a grassroots effort. It takes time and exposure to get out there. I think one of the good things that Blaupunkt has is a solid network and that will help us establish ourselves and get out there. We feel our products are as competitive – if not better – than anyone else’s products at the price point out in the marketplace. So, I think we have a good shot once we get it in there and start building it.
A factory fitted Rockford system in a previous-gen Mitsubishi Outlander. The company has partnerships for line-fitted products with many global OEMs.
Globally what are the trends that you’ve been seeing in the car audio market which have picked up in the recent past and what are the trends going forward?
Let’s speak about the aftermarket side. I think one of the biggest trends out there right now is that things are becoming very application-specific. Customers want to buy a system that is a solution. They want to be able to have products which offer super-high levels of performance but fit in seamlessly.
For us, it is about making sure that the integration of the product works right and we give that level of performance at the end of the day. We are seeing more and more vehicle-specific type solutions coming up, whether it’s tuning solutions from a DSP perspective, custom subwoofer boxes or smaller amplifiers that make it simpler to integrate them more efficiently into cars. Those are big trends, shallow woofers too. If we look at your market, you have a lot of smaller platform cars. You don’t have big SUVs.
“Autonomous cars are going to change people’s behaviour and also push entertainment platforms a little further than they are right now.”
So again it’s more about application of things. If we look at where that business was three or five years ago, and if we look at it today, there are so many more products in our portfolio that are solution and application driven.
Efficiency is always important. With smaller cars come smaller batteries and you have to have products that are efficient in delivering power. That’s clearly a trend out there. You see different materials in speakers. Weight is becoming a concern and we’re starting to use more neodymium speakers, more magnets and different materials to really keep the efficiency and performance exotic and keep weight down at the same time.
How do you look at the advent of autonomous driving as an opportunity for the car-audio industry?
Autonomous cars are going to change people’s behaviour in the vehicle. As an example, you mentioned Google is doing some testing in the US. Tesla’s model S and Model X have a semi- driver assist mode in the car. It’s spectacular, works well and it’s really cool. When it gets to the point that the car drives itself and you can sit as a passenger and enjoy some of the movies or entertainment. Take your content and literally have fun with it in the car, it just opens up all kinds of opportunities for the aftermarket as well as OEMs and push those entertainment platforms a little further than they are.
In terms of product development, how are you approaching this trend?
I don’t think we’re necessarily doing anything that’s going down the autonomous car path. I don’t think that’s driving us to a specific product or technology. As the platform develops for the car, we’re going to be looking at ways to integrate them into those vehicles.
We have a lot of emphasis on products that are designed for all weather applications. That is a huge trend and something that we’re seeing which is having a big push in the US, but also in Europe and in Asia with the marine market.
The motorcycle market is really starting to explode and that has been a really good segment for us. But it’s driving our products differently. The consumers kind of expand out of their car and get into boats or side by sides or motorcycles and they would absolutely want the same level of performance as in their cars. It’s a challenge because the product has to now be weather proof to a certain level. It has to work in the rain, in the dust and extreme temperatures. Basically, the elements. So, that’s driving a lot of things that we’re doing as a manufacturer and as a company to address that market.
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