AT&S, Europe’s largest printed circuit boards maker, sets sights on China’s booming smart EV market

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Austria Technologie & Systemtechnik (AT&S), Europe’s biggest maker of printed circuit boards, has taken a first step in tapping China’s intelligent vehicle market as autonomous driving, digital connectivity and in-car entertainment create surging demand for its products.

Phua Chen Jiang, the company’s China chief executive, told the Post that AT&S had been in discussions with carmakers and component suppliers about business partnerships in the world’s largest automotive market.

“We are prepared for the huge business opportunity,” Phua said. “The market has just taken off and we are planning ahead to ensure we have enough capacity to satisfy the needs of the clients.”

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Printed circuit boards are used in mobile phones, digital devices and cars.

AT&S also manufactures HDI (high-density interconnect) boards and integrated circuit substrates – the critical interfaces between the semiconductor chip and the printed circuit board.

Global chief executive Andreas Gerstenmayer told reporters via a webcast on Tuesday that autonomous driving and 5G communication in smart electric vehicles (EVs) had emerged as a new growth driver for AT&S.

“We are growing faster than the market while being highly profitable,” he said. “We created the basis that enables us to respond quickly, and consistently work on advancing our growth strategy at the same time.”

The Austrian company would not reveal the names of its clients in China, but Phua said expanded capacity at its plant in the southwestern Chongqing municipality would be enough to meet demand in the coming years.

AT&S has so far invested 1 billion (US$1.23 billion) in its Chongqing facilities and plans to spend an additional 200 million to increase the manufacturing capability.

It also owns a factory in Shanghai, where the company has poured in 900 million.

Presently, 80 per cent of AT&S’s sales are derived from its operations in Asia.

In the last financial year ending March 31, the company reported record revenue of 1.19 billion, up 19 per cent on the year.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) were valued at 245.7 million, up 26.3 per cent from the previous financial year.

China’s smart EV market grew in leaps and bounds last year, led by Tesla, whose Shanghai-made cars struck a chord with thousands of mainland drivers despite the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tesla’s Gigafactory 3 delivered about 140,000 Model 3s to mainland buyers in 2020, the first year that the plant was operational.

The American giant dominates the mainland’s premium EV segment and competes with a clutch of home-grown start-ups including NIO, Li Auto and Xpeng.

The smart car assemblers are in a race to build EVs that have autonomous assistance features.

Swiss bank UBS predicted that China’s EV market would report deliveries of 6.6 million units by 2025, a nearly sixfold jump from last year’s 1.17 million amid Beijing’s stepped-up efforts to reduce pollution on the roads.

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