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Happy birthday Ratingen! NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE celebrates 40 years of ignition and sensor excellence

NGK SPARK PLUG’s regional headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), which is based in Ratingen, Germany, is marking its 40-year success story this autumn.

In October 1979 – the same year Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize and Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first female Prime Minister – expanding Japanese automotive and technical ceramics specialist NGK SPARK PLUG CO. LTD founded its second European subsidiary, NGK SPARK PLUG DEUTSCHLAND GmbH. This new headquarters for Germany was a key step in further expanding the global company’s presence outside Asia, where it had been successful since 1936. It complemented the company’s existing overseas branches in England and the USA, replacing a smaller liaison office previously established in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1970. The Ratingen operation provided the platform for addressing the important German automotive market for a decade – and soon became a springboard for serving neighbouring countries.

In 1989 the former German headquarters officially took charge of activities across Europe and adopted its current name of NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE GmbH. Growth continued when in 2017 its remit further expanded to include the Middle East and Africa, with the goal of reinforcing its position throughout the key EMEA region.

Today NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE serves almost every automotive manufacturer in EMEA with Original Equipment (OE) and authorised dealer spare parts (OES), as well as supplying to the Independent Aftermarket (IAM). Its unique approach has made it the number one supplier of spark plugs and oxygen sensors, as well as a leading provider of glow plugs, ignition coils, leads and various sensor technologies. These parts are supplied to a wide range of automotive markets, including 4-wheel, 2-wheel, all-terrain and side-by-side vehicles (ATV/SSV), snowmobile, marine, gardening, agriculture, and industry. Innovation by the OE automotive business has been a continuous driving force, especially in the field of sensor technology. This product group currently generates two-thirds of NGK SPARK PLUG’s overall OE sales in EMEA, driven by innovations such as Europe’s first original oxygen sensor application, the first nitrogen oxide (NOx) sensors and new generation water leak sensors.

In addition, the company specialises in technical ceramic products. Its Technical Ceramics business unit develops, manufactures and supplies fine ceramics, cutting tools and medical products for a range of industries.

Adding ever more strength

Organisationally, the EMEA operation has grown to encompass ten group companies and more than 1,000 employees, as well as two production plants in France and South Africa. A state-of-the-art Technical Centre in Ratingen, opened in 1990 and extensively upgraded in 2017, is home to some of the industry’s most advanced product research, development and testing work. Other recent infrastructure developments include a 21,000 m² European Regional Distribution Centre in Duisburg, Germany, opened in 2017 to store and distribute products for customers in 44 European countries; and a ‘Venture Lab’ set up in Paris in May 2019 as a European hub for exploring market, technology and partnership opportunities.

The regional headquarters also continually adds customer value in other areas. In 2006 it pioneered TekniWiki, a free, online technical information platform providing product information and videos for workshop technicians, students and distributors. A new website for the EMEA region, launched in 2018, gives online visitors access to a range of informative content including a Part Finder feature and a motorsports and lifestyle ‘Fan Zone’. It also continually nurtures its brand visibility with enthusiasts through major technical partnerships in motorsports including Formula 1, the World Rally Championship and MotoGP, as well as its ongoing, entertaining Social Media programme on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

By combining all these strong capabilities with an outstanding commitment to quality, the regional headquarters’ activities have become of key strategic importance to NGK SPARK PLUG worldwide. Its OE annual sales turnover for example has grown consistently in recent years – more than doubling
since 2011 and with a further significant increase expected for the fiscal year to March 2020. Combining these results with its Aftermarket activities, as at March 2019, sales in the EMEA region represented 26.1% of the company’s global, 3.5 billion Euro turnover. This percentage may increase still further, as continued investment in aspects such as Enterprise Resource Planning boosts operational efficiencies; and a focused business development strategy harnesses new areas for growth.

Anniversary event with guests of honour

To celebrate the 40-year milestone, NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE held an anniversary event for its employees. To reinforce the importance of the region, President & Chief Operating Officer, Takeshi Kawai and Representative Director Chairman of the Board, Shinichi Odo joined the celebration from NGK SPARK PLUG’s global headquarters in Japan. The event was hosted by Regional President EMEA, President & CEO NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE and Corporate Officer, Damien Germès.

Damien Germès underlined the company’s significant achievements to date and future potential to come. “I would like to thank every one of our employees who has contributed to NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE’s journey over the past four decades. Their hard work has established a market-leading business, serving one of the most varied automotive Original Equipment, Aftermarket and technical ceramics regions worldwide,” he said. “Now, as the future of mobility continues to evolve, we have exciting new challenges and opportunities ahead. We look forward to many more years of success together!”

Classes of 1989 and 1993

Material Planner Associate Judith Achterkamp is the regional headquarters’ longest-standing employee, having joined NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE in 1989. “I just like the Japanese culture very much, their mentality and friendliness. I’ve always appreciated working here – for 30 years and counting,” she said.

Technical Centre Senior Manager Frank Buschmann also has a long history with the company, joining 26 years ago. He explained: “I’ve always loved cars. At NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE I have a varied and exciting role with one of the world’s leading car parts specialists, putting our products through the most demanding test programmes for the road and the race track. I love being part of a global team that’s brimming with passion and challenges!”