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Visteon Said to Study Permanent CEO, Weigh Unit Sale

Visteon Corp. (VC), the auto-parts supplier, is leaning toward naming interim Chief Executive Officer Tim Leuliette to the post permanently after ousting its CEO last month, people familiar with the plans said.

The company’s board is also asking advisers for options about its electronics unit, which makes instrument clusters and infotainment systems, and may explore a sale of the business, said two of the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

Since exiting bankruptcy in 2010, Visteon has tried to shed lower-margin units to focus on faster-growing operations in Asia. Leuliette, 62, will detail Visteon’s new strategy at an investor conference in Boston next week, which will include an increased focus on the climate business that makes heating and air-conditioning systems, one of the people said. Jim Fisher, a company spokesman, declined to comment.

Visteon, spun off from Ford Motor Co. (F) in 2000, has been pressured by investors to boost its share price, which peaked at $75.75 in January 2011. The Van Buren Township, Michigan-based parts supplier hasn’t been able to generate consistent profits under three permanent CEOs before Leuliette.

A month ago, CEO Don Stebbins was weighing options after a deal to sell Visteon’s interiors unit fell apart and his attempt to buy the remaining 30 percent of Halla Climate Control Corp. was blocked by South Korea’s National Pension Service. Stebbins said in an interview that while he was looking at acquisitions in climate and electronics to boost market share in both units, he didn’t expect any new transactions to close in 2012.

Climate Focus

Stebbins, 54, resigned on Aug. 10 and Leuliette was named interim chief, the company said in an Aug. 13 statement.

The company will focus on expanding its climate business, which includes 70 percent ownership of Halla and Visteon’s own climate unit, two people said. The climate operation is ranked No. 2 behind Denso Corp. (6902), the Kariya, Japan-based parts maker that is 23 percent owned by Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)

“Visteon has a vested interest in maintaining a combined Climate Company” made up of Halla and Visteon’s climate operations and would realize greater value with the combined entity, Matthew Stover, a Boston-based analyst at Guggenheim Securities LLC, wrote in an Aug. 30 research note.

Visteon’s board favors Leuliette as the permanent CEO because potential candidates view him as likely to win the job, he agrees with shareholders who have pushed the company to sell off lower-margin businesses and it’s hard to find CEO candidates to shrink the company, the people said.

Electronics Unit

The shares rose 1.3 percent to $47.62 at the close in New York. They have dropped 4.6 percent this year.

Visteon also is asking banks for ideas on how to exit its electronics business, which has intellectual property shared with a joint venture between the company and SAIC Motor Corp. (600104), one of the people said.

Electronics accounted for 17 percent of Visteon’s revenue last year, or $1.37 billion. Visteon’s electronics business is fifth-largest globally, according to a 2011 investor presentation, trailing Continental AG (CON), Denso, Harman International Industries Inc. (HAR) and Alpine Electronics Inc. (6816)

Visteon recently bid on Air International Thermal Systems, a climate business owned by Unitas Capital, one person familiar with the proposal said. The talks have stalled over price, the person said.

Strategic Review

Visteon hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Rothschild in October 2011 as advisers for a strategic review. Independent board members such as Harry Wilson and Leuliette pressed Stebbins to interview banks to help streamline the supplier, two people familiar with the process said in October.

The company sold lighting, its smallest unit, to Varroc Group of India last month. In July, Visteon ended an agreement to sell the majority of its interior business to Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Trim Systems Co., its joint venture with Shanghai- based Huayu Automotive Systems Co. (600741)

Leuliette served as CEO of Dura Automotive Systems Inc. until 2010, the year he became a Visteon director. He was CEO of Metaldyne Corp. from 2001 to 2008.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeffrey McCracken in New York at jmccracken3@bloomberg.net; Mark Clothier in Southfield, Michigan at mclothier@bloomberg.net; David Welch in New York at dwelch12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net; Jeffrey McCracken at jmccracken3@bloomberg.net

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