Over the past few years, China Vehicle Components Technology Holdings (1269) - the nation's fourth-largest maker of shock absorbers - has been evolving gradually from being a dominant player in the domestic market to one that has research and development capabilities and growth ambitions beyond the mainland.
This evolution comes amid the backdrop of other Chinese companies making overseas acquisitions.
The Wangxiang Group has snapped up several companies in Europe, the US and Australia.
BeijingWest Industries acquired US- based Delphi Ride Dynamics and Brakes in November 2009.
China's auto components industry, where some of the leading companies are foreign, is made up of thousands of firms dispersed in locations such as Changchun, Shenyang and Harbin.
The industry has been growing as have imports and exports.
Beijing's intentions to develop the industry, such as those outlined in 2004 in the Automotive Industry Development Policy, has set the framework for further development of auto and components companies.
The National Development and Reform Commission has also set the tone for the industry.
Under its young chief executive, Zhao Zhijun, now in his 30s, China Vehicle has moved to set up an overseas research and development facility in Turin, Italy, to upgrade its products and set a course to diversify its export markets.
Last year, the company increased its research and development spending by 8.6 percent to 17.7 million yuan (HK$21.7 million). And it is setting up a technology research centre in Henan. The company is also seeking approval to supply shock absorbers to the railways sector, which it has identified as a growth opportunity.
This year, China Vehicle aims to export its Danjiang-branded shock absorbers to Russia, Iran, Brazil and other overseas markets.
Zhao, a former public servant, keeps an eye on the company's affairs on various fronts, from the strategic decision- making level to the factory floor, including sales, procurement, research and development, annual budgeting and financing matters, as well as recruitment.
Having joined the company in 2005, he and a group of young managers began introducing innovative ideas to the business.
In December last year, the company went public, listing its shares in Hong Kong at HK$1.4 each. Since then, they have traded above the offer price, rising 106 percent to HK$2.88 per share.
The flotation came just two years after China officially became the world's largest car market, surpassing the United States, where demand had weakened.
Still, the country's components manufacturing sector pales in comparison with the US in terms of output value. But opportunity lies ahead for parts makers.
Some estimates suggest the sector will grow to US$350 billion (HK$2.7 trillion) by 2015.
Several foreign companies themselves, including the Bosch Group, have switched to producing parts such as springs in China.
Zhao, who graduated with a masters in philosophy of science and technology, said innovation is key to the company. He said he has been inspired by the thoughts of philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel as well as Karl Heinrich Marx.
He believes that perseverance usually pays off, noting that "he was a workaholic" when he began his first job a public servant. "I was the first to arrive at 7.30 in the morning and the last to leave."
At the time, he worked in the Zhengzhou office of the China Securities Regulatory Commission.
"I remember riding a bike [once] on a rainy day when suddenly the city was badly affected by flooding. Despite the waist-deep water, I was still the first one in the office," Zhao said.
Later, he served as a general manager of the sales department in a branch of Minsheng Securities.
China Vehicle is the latest undertaking in his professional life, where shock absorbers occupy his mind.
"If we see a vehicle's engine as the heart, then shock absorbers are the hands and legs," he said. As a key component of a vehicle's suspension, they absorb the impact of big or small road bumps and reduce vibration.
"That is the difference between a tractor and passenger car."
Established in Henan in the 1960s to make shock absorbers for trucks, China Vehicle gradually shifted its focus to passenger cars, in line with rising demand.
Last year, according to the company, it sold 4.98 million units of shock absorbers. It now supplies 12 out of the 20 top mainland carmakers including Geely Automobile (0175).
Under Zhao, the company also began manufacturing shock absorbers for low-emission cars with an engine capacity of 1.6 liters, preferred by families. "We plan to cover all the domestic brands in the next three to five years," said Zhao, adding that a three-year plan for development has been prepared.
Production capacity will be doubled to 15 million units by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, with 75 distributors, the company aims to gradually expand high-margin products - shock absorbers for the vehicle-servicing market and for exports by 2014.
He said the company has cost advantages against competitors in the industry. China Vehicle's net profit last year jumped 51.6 percent year on year to 56.9 million yuan.
He acknowledges the contribution of the 1,400-plus employees to the success of the company. Similarly, he said, members of the senior management team form a critical component in production and research.
The combined efforts of the workforce and management lay the foundation for sustainable growth, he said, adding, for long-term growth, talented staff are essential.
Zhao usually meets new recruits to encourage them to work hard and persevere.
For his, part, he said he is keen to be an example of good leadership.
Finding engineering talent is a challenge for the industry.
In July last year, Fu Yuwu, vice chairman with the Society of Automotive Engineers of China, was cited in People's Daily online as saying that China cannot catch up with leading automakers Germany, Japan and the United States in technology, development environment, innovation and talent, because of the "talent shortage."
Zhang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of China Machinery Industry Federation, was quoted as saying the auto industry never lacks markets and capital, but that it needs technology and talent to "master the technology."