All three divisions contributed to the rise in the company's sales and earnings. The high demand among automotive manufacturers for solutions to reduce emission of pollutants continued in the first quarter of 2017, causing sales in the Mechatronics division to grow by 15% year-on-year to €425 million. This increase in sales led to a further rise in operating earnings to €43 million (up 26%). Just recently, Mechatronics received an initial order for a special application of coolant valves from a major American carmaker. The order has a lifetime volume of more than USD 25 million.
The Hardparts division also made a successful start to 2017. With sales of €249 million in the first quarter of 2017, a year-on-year increase of 8% was achieved. In addition to a recovery on the market for large-bore pistons, this was due particularly to business with small-bore pistons for the European market. The division's operating earnings improved to €17 million (up 31%). With a recently acquired major order for commercial vehicle pistons worth more than €70 million for a North American premium truck manufacturer, the division is successfully continuing the strategic expansion of its steel piston business.
In addition to product innovations for further increasing the efficiency of combustion engines, the Mechatronics and Hardparts divisions are increasingly investing in new products in the field of electric mobility, such as battery and thermal management.
The Aftermarket division's sales rose by 11% to €83 million, a development that was mainly attributable to sales with products of the Group's own brands Kolbenschmidt and Pierburg. While there was a positive business performance in the European and Asian sales regions, business with customers in the Middle East was still negatively impacted by the crisis. Operating earnings outpaced the growth in sales with an increase of 40% to €7 million.
The joint ventures with Chinese partners, which are not included in the sales figures of Rheinmetall Automotive, also increased their sales slightly in the first quarter of 2017. In the first three months of the year, their business volume amounted to €218 million (Q1 2016: €214 million); earnings after taxes climbed by €2 million or 20% to €12 million.
Sales performance at Rheinmetall Automotive is strongly determined by economic development in the key automotive markets of Europe, North and South America and Asia. Based on current expert forecasts regarding trends in global automotive production this year, Rheinmetall Automotive expects to achieve sales growth of 3% to 4%. The company expects the operating result to climb again, generating an operating margin of at least 8%.