AUBURN HILLS, MICH. — It took Faurecia SA about 10 years to go from a niche player to a major force in North American auto interiors.
Now the French company is looking to build up its exteriors business in the region, using the expertise it has built up elsewhere in the global auto market.
Last year, Faurecia launched its first stand-alone exteriors facility in North America, making parts for Chrysler Group LLC's Dodge Dart in Belvidere, Ill., said Patrick Szaroletta, vice president of North American operations for Faurecia Automotive Exteriors during a May 14 interview at the company's U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills.
The exteriors group has other business coming its way in the next few years, allowing it to claim part of a total North American exteriors market it expects could hit $2 billion, if the industry can cut cycle time in half, a goal the company says it is aggressively pursuing.
"This is the newest business group for Faurecia in North America," Szaroletta said, noting that the unit's business in the region grew 40 percent in 2012 over 2011.
It expects to build its exteriors business in the region during the coming years by tapping its strengths elsewhere in the world in producing front-end modules. The Belvidere plant, which opened in 2012, is turning out front-end systems for the Dart, which includes the bumper, cooling components and other connectors.
The company is putting an injection molding press into Puebla, Mexico, to begin producing exterior parts there as well.
Elements within a front-end module vary, but begin with a carrier — made of composite plastics, lightweight metals or a combination of materials — which holds components placed at the front of the car. In some locations, Faurecia produces a front end that also includes the painted bumper fascia, pedestrian protection elements, cooling fans and lighting.
In North America, Faurecia is coming into a market that already has some established front-end players, including Magna International Inc. and Hella Behr Plastic Omnium GmbH. While U.S. automakers traditionally were slow to adopt a more extensive front-end system, the need to reduce weight and meet higher fuel-economy standards is driving increased interest.
A front-end carrier using composites instead of a traditional steel beam both cuts weight in terms of materials and potentially saves money by integrated multiple parts — without affecting the performance or vehicle design.
"One of the things we're really looking at now is increasing the story of composites," Szaroletta said. "Auto exteriors is our leading area for composites."
And in the past year, Faurecia has been moving more aggressively into high-end composites to set itself up for future growth as the industry embraces lightweighting.
In July 2012, Faurecia bought Sora Composites — a French supplier with an already-established expertise in glass- and carbon-fiber composites. It followed up that move within weeks with the acquisition of Plastal France, a plastic body panel specialist whose best-known products clad Daimler AG's Smart car.
The combined expertise of those operations will make it possible to combine new materials in complete systems.
Faurecia already is in production on a chopped-glass-fiber composite produced with resin transfer molding for a deck lid surround for sports car maker Aston Martin. It used the outlines of that project to develop a design concept prototype of the same part using RTM and carbon fiber — and a weight savings potential of 50 percent.
For now, much of its existing North American business can be handled within the existing corporate footprint. The exteriors unit can access injection molding capacity within the interiors group as needed, Szaroletta said.
With more business expected to come the group's way, though, it will be considering other opportunities for growth.