Lear Corp. stepped up its pursuit of a European customer base last week with the acquisition of Keiper Car Seating, a division of Keiper Recaro GmbH & Co.
Remscheid, Germany-based Keiper, a jewel of the global automotive seating industry, has been pursued by major seat makers for several months.
Last week, Lear agreed to pay Putsch GmbH & Co. $235 million for Keiper and its partnerships. The deal includes a joint venture between Keiper and Lear's Markham, Ontario-based competitor, Magna International Inc. A Lear spokeswoman declined to comment on how that inherited relationship will be handled.
The Keiper acquisition gives Lear broad new entree into Mercedes-Benz products made in Germany and Brazil, as well as products of Porsche, Volkswagen and Audi. About 44 percent of Keiper's business is with Daimler-Benz AG, including the automaker's C-class and E-class vehicles.
Daimler is preparing to launch a new large-volume world car — the small A-Class — with a plant in Europe and another in Brazil.
``Keiper is a trophy asset, as far as seating companies go,'' said Nick Colas, auto analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston in New York. ``Everyone has been trying to buy Keiper,'' he said. ``It is associated with the world's best technology. Whoever acquires Keiper acquires that image.''
In recent weeks, Lear announced new intentions to court more European business.
In April, Robert Rossiter, president of the Southfield, Mich., company, moved his office to Germany to focus on Lear's European sales and operations. Rossiter said Lear wants to be nearer to the decision-makers on existing and potential European world-car programs.
Keiper gives Lear 10 new seating assembly plants in Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Africa and Hungary. Another operation in Delaware serves General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Malibu production.
Keiper is the second European seat maker to be sold in the past 30 days.
Earlier in May, Magna paid $US51.8 million to acquire Nottingham, England-based Tricom Group Holdings Ltd., a Ford and GM supplier with sales of about $100 million a year.
At that time, Magna also believed itself still in the running to pick up Keiper.