FRANKFURT, GERMANY — Automotive interior components supplier SAI Automotive AG — formerly Sommer Allibert Industries — is building a plant near Pueblo, Mexico, to make instrument panels for Volkswagen AG's factory there. The new plant is part of SAI's global expansion program, which includes new or expanded manufacturing capacity in the United States and Turkey, along with the purchase of Mercedes-Benz AG's interior trim business in Worth, Germany.
These new projects, plus growth with existing customers and new contracts, should yield 11 percent annual automotive sales growth through 2000, the company forecasts, to 10 billion French francs ($2 billion).
The Mexican facility, Sommer Allibert Ind. Mexico SA de CV, will produce instrument panels for VW's new Beetle and the Golf A4 models to be made in Mexico, according to SAI. The plant will employ 200. The company did not divulge investment or capacity for that plant, but did say it currently produces 20,000-25,000 car dashboards a day.
The supplier has ordered two roundtable-based production lines, for instrument panels and passenger side airbag covers, from Heidel GmbH and Elastogran GmbH, which operate a partnership for such machines. Elastogran supplies the Puromat high-pressure mixing heads and polyurethane systems; Heidel designs and builds the processing equipment and molds.
SAI, based in Frankfurt, comprises the non-French automotive activities of Sommer Allibert SA of Nanterre, France. Automotive business represents half of Sommer Allibert's total sales of FF12.7 billion ($2.59 billion); the firm is active in floor and wall coverings, home furnishings, storage and handling and packaging.
Instrument panels are SAI's biggest single product line, representing about a third of sales, followed by door panels (22 percent), carpets/soundproofing (21 percent), and bumpers (9 percent), according to company data. All together, SAI operates more than 30 plants in Europe.
Among the firm's recent strategic moves are:
Formed a joint venture near Greenville, S.C., with Inoac Corp. of Nagoya, Japan, to make instrument panels, door panels and consoles for the new BMW AG plant nearby.
Set up an automotive bumper production and painting operation near St. Louis to supply General Motors Corp.
Set up a plant in Setubal, Portugal, to supply the Ford-VW AutoEuropa passenger van joint venture with various interior trim components.
Acquired 75.1 percent of Mercedes-Benz's dashboard assembly unit in Worth, a business with sales of 175 million deutsche marks ($120 million) annually.
Formed an instrument panel systems joint venture with Siemens Automotive, which integrates instruments with the molded panels into complete cockpit modules at factories in Germany and the Czech Republic to supply Volkswagen and its Skoda subsidiary, respectively.
The company is setting up production in Brazil, and is evaluating industrial projects in India and China ``medium term.''
To help finance those and other projects, SAI proposes to double its capital base by offering new stock shares. Shareholders are scheduled to meet Dec. 16 to vote on the proposal, which was set aside earlier this year following a shareholder's protest.
SAI also has found re-uses for its products. One of its recycling developments, called Trimelt-PUR, combines mixed waste textile fibers with PU seating foam taken from scrapped cars to produce a noise-suppression matting used between carpet and floor panels. SAI produces Trimelt-PUR in a continuous process using a thermoplastic binder.
Sommer Allibert's 1995 sales were 20.3 percent ahead of 1994; profit, however, dropped 31.9 percent to FF240.5 million ($49 million) as the company absorbed higher raw material costs and start-up costs for new plants.