DETROIT - Textron Automotive Co., expanding its business in the United States and abroad, has invested $232 million in a variety of plant and machinery projects during the past three years to increase production of interior and exterior trim and instrument panels. The company, based in Troy, Mich., also is adding new molding equipment as it converts production of bumper fascias from reaction injection molded polyurethane to injection molded thermoplastic olefins.
Textron's latest expansion project - new molding machinery and a new paint line at its Evart, Mich., plant - is ramping up for production of bumper fasciaand exterior trim. The $23.7 million project includes four new injection presses with 3,000 tons of clamping force.
Since January 1994, Textron has added 55 new injection presses with clamping forces of 500 tons or more. More than two dozen of the machines range in size from 1,500-4,000 tons.
The majority of the large presses, some 42 altogether, have been supplied by Van Dorn Demag. Other suppliers include Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. and Cincinnati Milacron Inc.
Textron Automotive, with injection molding-related sales of $1.4 billion last year, has positioned itself as a systems integrator, a supplier of complete interior systems. The company, for example, supplies parts and acts as the coordinator or manager of the integrated interior for the Cadillac Seville and Eldorado made by General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp.'s LH series.
With North America expected to be a low-growth market in the years ahead, automakers and their top suppliers are moving into less-developed regions such as Latin America and Asia Pacific while consolidating their positions in Europe.
``If you're not going to be global, you're not going to be a major player,'' D. Michael Weston, Textron's executive vice president for marketing and product development, said in an interview at the firm's Troy headquarters.
In Europe, the company has been involved in a joint venture since 1989 with Marley Foam Ltd. The venture, in Born, the Netherlands, makes instrument panels and related components for Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler.
Having a strong European manufacturing base is important because automakers will be sourcing more parts overseas.
``You're going to see more and more of that,'' Weston said.
Textron Automotive, a unit of Providence, R.I.-based Textron Inc., also works closely with sister divisions that do automotive work around the globe, including the parent company's three fasteners businesses.
In June, Textron also signed preliminary agreements with three Chinese manufacturers of automotive and industrial components. The auto agreement, Textron said, will allow it to enter the instrument panel and interior trim market in China.
In Mexico, Textron is pleased with the start-up of its plant.
The company is ramping up production at a previously reported, $20 million factory in Saltillo, Mexico, near Monterrey, where it is making instrument panels for the Dodge Ram pickup truck. The firm said it expects to expand the Saltillo operation to handle new business from Ford, GM and Volkswagen.
At the same time, competition for interior systems is heating up. Earlier this year, Lear Seating Corp. acquired Automotive Industries Inc., a major supplier of interior components, in a $626 million deal. Lear said the combination of the two companies created the largest interior systems supplier in the world.
While it is a systems integrator, that does not mean Textron makes all of the components it supplies. The company, for example, has no plans now to manufacture seating, which can be sourced from subcontractors.
Other major projects where Textron recently has invested large sums:
A new $27.5 million molding plant in Rantoul, Ill., to produce interior trim for the Chrysler minivan.
A $13.2 million expansion of the molding operation in Americus, Ga., where exterior parts are manufactured. The firm also upgraded a paint line for exterior parts.
A $4 million investment at the Farmington, N.H., plant to expand production of interior trim.
Textron's biggest gains in market share in North America occurred at Chrysler and Ford, said Gordon Young, vice president of purchasing. Bumper fascia and interior products were particularly strong segments.
``We took over major programs that we had not been previously handling,'' Young said.
Internally, Textron Automotive did some consolidating of its own this summer when it created a new management structure for trim operations under President Fred Hubacker. Besides interior and exterior trim, Textron Automotive also contains the CWC Castings, McCord Winn and Micromatic business units.
The new trim operations structure also formally melded the various organizations that Textron had operated over the years, including the Davidson instrument panel and trim units and the former Acustar plastics business acquired from Chrysler in 1993 for $139 million in cash.