DETROIT - Several U.S.-based automotive suppliers are expected to lead Chrysler Corp.'s ambitious effort to build a small, plastic-bodied car for the Asian market, according to two parts industry executives. The No. 3 automaker's strategic initiative to build the BTV - basic transportation vehicle - in India could rest heavily on suppliers, including Budd Co., Collins & Aikman Corp. and possibly Textron Inc.
They are awaiting the results of joint-venture talks between Chrysler and Indian car companies, including Bajaj Auto Ltd.
The suppliers also are in a holding pattern, weighing the cost of such a program, which could grow into a world car project Chrysler could then target to other Third World nations.
``Everyone is still looking at the [Chrysler] proposals,'' said an executive with one of the chosen suppliers. ``It would be a big challenge for everyone who is not [in India] ... but we have not yet decided if we will go.''
The executive said the project would help open the Indian market for his company, but the high cost presents significant financial risk because of suppliers' already thin profit margins.
Chrysler could benefit from the financial strength and technology of its largest suppliers for its continued overseas expansion and with competition with the much larger foreign operations of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. Some of that technology will be used in developing the plastic panels the two executives say Chrysler plans for the new car. The firm's goal is to keep costs down and to make it a recyclable car, the executives said.
Chrysler wants to build as many as 250,000 four-seat cars powered by a small engine, and with a price tag of less than $6,000. It's not clear why Chrysler is considering the use of thermoplastic, injection molded panels, which are typically cost effective in lower volumes. However, GM uses that process for its Saturn and sold 282,000 models in 1996.
The supplier-aided boost Chrysler needs started earlier this year. The automaker brought together its top suppliers with those from the Indian subcontinent as part of a trade mission meeting held at the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, Mich.
Insiders say Chrysler's top suppliers also hope to minimize their risks by forming joint ventures with Indian suppliers.
A Chrysler spokeswoman characterized the meeting as a social affair. But one of the supplier executives whose company was represented at the meeting said attendance was mandatory.
Chrysler reportedly has talked with six Indian suppliers for a project that could cost it between $500 million and $1 billion.
A Chrysler spokesperson declined to comment on the suppliers it will use in Southwest Asia, or proposed plans to build that car with a plastic body.
The three U.S. firms include Budd, a Troy-based subsidiary of the German company Thyssen AG, and a supplier of chassis components; Collins & Aikman Co., a Charlotte N.C.-based supplier of fabrics, trim and other materials that owns Dura Con-vertible Systems of Adrian, Mich., and recently upgraded its Detroit-area presence by acquiring Larizza Industries Inc. of Troy; and Textron Automotive Co. of Troy, an affiliate of Textron Inc., which could supply both the dash and plastic body panels.
Spokesmen for the three companies declined comment to Crain's Detroit Business, a sister publication to Plastics News.
The inclusion of Budd, Collins & Aikman and Textron in Chrysler's India plans appears to be part of the automaker's efforts to reward those enthusiastic partners with long-term relationships.
Both Budd and Collins & Aikman are suppliers to Chrysler's high-profile Prowler, a roadster headed for production.