In August of last year, NGK Spark Plugs (U.S.A.), Inc. announced the intention to change the company name. On its face, a name change may seem pretty straightforward, but for this iconic global ignition and sensor specialist, this rebranding brings a whole host of new opportunities.
The new name – Niterra North America, Inc. – which became effective on April 1, is a combination of the Latin words “Niteo,” for shine, and “Terra,” for planet Earth. The company said the new branding reflects its future vision and expanding portfolio of products and services.
According to Tracy Neil, corporate communications manager, the new logo features a yellow dot signifying a torch shining on the earth, while the green color, uniquely named, “Earth Green” is a depiction of what the earth looks like from space. “Together it conveys our message that we will continue to contribute to society and the environment in the future,” Neil explained.
While a new name and logo have been introduced in English, the Japanese language corporate name will not change, the company said. And, more importantly, the well-known NGK and NTK brand names and logos will still be utilized in the marketplace for spark plug- and ceramic-related products.
“It is an exciting time in the long and storied history of NGK Spark Plug, LTD.,” said Michael Schwab, president and CEO, in making the initial announcement. “We are becoming an increasingly progressive corporation as we strive to meet our vision for the future. A future where we expand our core ceramic technologies, explore capabilities beyond our traditional areas, and challenge ourselves to develop solutions and services that use technologies to resolve social issues while contributing to a sustainable society.”
That future includes quite a bit of change, explained Brian Norko, senior vice president – commercial business operations.
“What it boiled down to in the conversations that have been taking place for several years now, was what was going on with internal combustion engines,” said Norko. “At the time, Mr. Odo, Representative Director Chairman of the Board, made an announcement to all the NGK/NTK employees worldwide – which is around 16,000 employees – that NGK Spark Plugs will create and transform their business portfolio to deliver new value in the face of an ever-changing future. So, they worked on a name change. And, the name change was really [intended] for investors, as we have these meetings upstream in terms of mergers and acquisitions, and downstream in terms of platforms and technologies that get us closer to the customer.”
The name change also was intended to represent the numerous other opportunities the company is stepping into with the launch of the Niterra Group Venture Lab, which aims to nurture startups and develop competitive technologies in the mobility space as well as the medical and utilities segments – utilizing the company’s core competence in ceramic technologies as its foundation for growth.
“We want to do things with Niterra that meet large-scale global environmental changes, while addressing society’s issues and challenges through our products and technology to contribute to a sustainable society,” said Norko.
To that end, Niterra will do business under what Norko described as a “Four-Pillar Structure,” that will focus investment and business opportunities in Mobility, Energy, Communications and Healthcare.
“Niterra is focusing on four strategies that when people think of NGK Spark Plugs, they have no idea that we’re into medical. People think of sensors as ADAS. But right now, we’re working with a company in Japan to use our sensing technology for shrimp farming. Our sensors can track the water temperature, the pollutants in the water, when it needs fresh water, and when food is needed for the shrimp. Again, our sensing technology is what we do at our core, but people would never realize that we’re doing that outside of automotive, as well.”
Norko added that today roughly 20-30 percent of Niterra employees are working on new business, and he’s seeing their customers transitioning their employees to do the same – particularly the automakers with their increasing focus on EVs.
“I think it’s important to note that this reflects a turn beyond mobility, beyond just the automotive, OE and aftermarket space,” said David Varady, Sr., marketing manager, brand & creative, Aftermarket Division, who worked closely on the rebranding initiative. “This is really going to broaden the space that we can play in and represents our vast technological capabilities.”
Norko added that given Niterra’s history, strong customer relationships, extensive engineering capabilities and strong financial foundation, the company is in an excellent position to help some of these young startups that have great products and great technologies but perhaps not the other assets to get their products out to the OE and aftermarket sectors.
“Niterra has the ability to do that with our customer-facing engineering expertise, our manufacturing expertise, and the overall health of our company,” said Norko. “We’re already through the door and all this equity can be used to help bring them to market.”
Planting New Seeds
Like the old Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
Niterra officially launched its new name and branding with a celebration aptly coinciding with Earth Month. At its Wixom, Michigan-based U.S. headquarters, the company hosted a celebration for employees that partnered with One Tree Planted, a nonprofit organization focused on global reforestation. As part of the festivities, each Niterra associate was given a tree kit to plant at home and a tree gifted in their name. An initial donation was also provided to a representative of One Tree Planted, contributing nearly 7,000 trees to the partnership. Additional fundraising and employee engagement activities will continue supporting One Tree Planted reforestation efforts throughout the year, including an associate tree planting event.
At the event, employees also were given Niterra-branded lunchboxes made entirely of recycled materials.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with One Tree Planted,” said Schwab. “Every organization needs to think about their effects on the planet and give back to the environment to ensure a sustainable future. Trees are vital to our environment, and this organization is making a tremendous environmental impact with their reforestation projects.”