MANCHESTER, MICH. - Johnson Controls Inc. plans to spend 25 percent more on engineering and research this year than last, including $5 million for an 80,000-square-foot technical center that the firm's Plastics Technology Group dedicated June 28 in Manchester. Separately, Milwaukee-based JCI recently formed an auto-motive seating joint venture in Germany with Belgium's Recticel NV, and is seeking to acquire a majority interest in Roth Freres SA, its French joint venture partner that also is active in automotive seating and interior parts.
JCI Chairman James Keyes said at the research and development center's inauguration that Johnson Controls will spend about $160 million this year on engineering and research, compared with about $128 million in 1994 and just $66 million as recently as 1992.
The center will serve the company's Plastics Container and Plastic Machinery divisions and do occasional blow molding work for its Automotive Systems Group.
Groups touring the center recently saw a prototype component for an instrument panel, a shroudlike part, being blow molded. As a single piece, it could replace a part now constructed of a blown shell - foam insert and external skin, visitors were told.
Johnson Controls' technology group recently established satellite R&D centers in Belgium and Italy.
In Germany, the firm is consolidating operations from several facilities under one roof, as was the case with the new Michigan center.
Also in Europe, JCI revealed June 26 it has offered to pay an undisclosed amount to acquire a majority interest in French joint venture partner Roth Freres, a privately held firm in Strasbourg that had sales last year of about $600 million. Roth Freres has plants in two French cities producing foam cushions, headrests, headliners, door trim and shelves.
The two companies have had a joint venture in seats and headliners in Europe and in the United States since 1988. The venture last year had sales of about $375 million.
Johnson Controls also has joined forces with Brussels, Belgium-based Recticel, already a market force in the European slabstock foam industry, to establish Recticel-JCI Formschaum GmbH in Espelkamp, Gemany. Recticel has agreed to take a 75 percent stake in JCI's existing seating foam plant in Espelkamp, allowing the Belgian firm to supply a larger share of Volkswagen AG's business.
Neither Recticel nor JCI disclosed the value of Recticel's participation in the unit, which had sales last year of DM 75 million ($45.5 million), supplying seating foam pieces to Ford Werke AG, Volkswagen AG, Merdeces-Benz AG and BMW AG.
The venture arose out of Recticel's search for increased molding capacity to fulfill its enlarged commitments to VW, and reserve capacity at the Espelkamp facility, a JCI spokesman said.
This new venture will allow JCI to run the plant at a higher production capacity rate and with enhanced Recticel processing methods.