Like a nervous debutante, Prince Corp. of Holland, Mich., is preparing to enter the European automotive market. The family-owned maker of interior trim wants to top $1 billion in annual sales by 2000.
The company has enjoyed explosive growth in the United States. Sales will hit $715 million in 1995, up 40 percent from 1994. Prince is fifth on the Automotive News list of top interior trim suppliers to North America.
To maintain its pace, Prince is looking overseas. ``Europe is a big target,'' said Walter Jones, chief financial officer. ``We see that as an expanding market.''
Prince's growth has fueled speculation that the company might go public to finance expansion. Jones denies it: ``There are no plans to go public.''
Moving into Europe will not be easy for a company that stays close to its roots. All of Prince's assembly plants and engineering facilities are in Holland, Mich.
The comments by Jones to Automotive News, a sister publication of Plastics News, indicate Prince's managers are preparing to shed their insular outlook as they look overseas for new customers.
Prince already has lined up Jaguar, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. This year, overseas sales will total $65 million, up sharply from $13 million in 1993.
So far, Prince has managed overseas growth by exporting from Michigan. For example, the company exports door trim panels for the Jeep Grand Cherokee to Eurostar, Chrysler Corp.'s joint-venture plant in Austria.
But another major customer, Ford Motor Co., has made it clear that its Ford 2000 reorganization will require front-line suppliers to make components worldwide. That is a powerful incentive for Prince, which does most of the Lincoln Continental interior.
Prince must decide whether to build overseas plants, enter into a joint venture or buy a European supplier.
``I think we are going to adopt a mix of options'' in Europe, said Mike Suman, vice president of advance sales and marketing. ``We are committed to Ford 2000,'' and that means Prince will have to be a global supplier.
One issue for Prince is how to maintain its corporate culture in Europe. Some industry analysts predict that the transition will be difficult.
``We talk about those things all the time,'' Suman responded.
The other interior trim suppliers in the Automotive News ranking are: No. 1, Delphi Interior and Lighting Systems of Warren, Mich.; No. 2, Ford Automotive Components Division in Dearborn, Mich.; No. 3, Textron Automotive Co. of Troy, Mich.; No. 4, United Technologies Automotive Inc. of Dearborn; No. 6, Becker Group Inc. of Warren; No. 7, Automotive Industries Inc. of Rochester Hills, Mich.; No. 8, Manchester Plastics Inc. of Troy; and No. 9, Cambridge Industries Inc. of Madison Heights, Mich.