DETROIT - Automotive supplier Becker Group International, continuing its rapid global expansion program, is building three plants in North America and wrapping up negotiations for joint ventures in India and Thailand. To handle new business, Becker is building interior components plants in St. Louis, another near Tuscaloosa, Ala., and a third on a site near Puebla, Mexico. The firm did not disclose the investment it is making in the new plants or in specific customer programs.
Becker, based in Warren, Mich., also formed a joint venture last month with EASi Engineering of Bingham Farms, Mich., to expand its ability to create computer simulations of automotive interiors and components. The joint venture, known as EASi/Meg, is based at Becker's Megatech design and engineering facilities in Warren.
Becker is positioning itself as a global supplier of complete interior systems for automakers, offering a full complement of services including design, simulation, engineering, tooling and production.
The company aims to be the best of the interior systems suppliers that survive the continuing industry consolidation, said Chief Operating Officer Robert Albert. Albert joined Becker in March from Dow Automotive, where he was global vice president.
He said the Becker management team was working to fashion a ``seamless'' global organization incorporating the company's expanded production facilities, new joint ventures and the February acquisition of German interior components supplier Happich GmbH. With the acquisition of Happich, a company twice its own size, Becker is projecting sales this year of $1.3 billion.
Becker Chief Executive Officer Charles Becker was in India on May 16 to complete a joint venture agreement and was scheduled to be in Thailand the next day to complete another.
Meanwhile, the Alabama plant, located near the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant and scheduled to go into production late this year or early 1997, also would supply other automakers in the southeastern United States, Albert said.
The new plant in Mexico is the second for Becker in Puebla, where the company supplies parts to Volkswagen. The new plant, scheduled to start production later this year, will supply VW with door panels and interior components for the updated Beetle and the Golf.
Sommer-Allibert SA, the French interior systems manufacturer, is supplying instrument panels for the vehicles, Albert said.
As it expands, Becker is moving from a large-scale, mass-production system to one where it locates smaller, more flexible plants near automotive customers.
The new system, Albert said, will allow the company to better meet demands for lower costs, higher quality and speedier delivery of parts that also are sequenced with customer assembly operations.
As Becker shifts work to its new St. Louis operation, slated for a July start-up, the company is laying off 180 employees at its plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. Albert said the ramp-up of the St. Louis plant, with newer process technology and delivery systems, made the layoffs in Sterling Heights necessary.
Overall, Becker employs more than 8,000 people in its global organization. The firm's number of manufacturing employees in North America is up more than 3 percent this year, while its total North American employment, including design and engineering staffs, is up more than 30 percent, Albert said.