DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.'s Automotive Product Operations has bought a large stake in a plastics molder in Toledo, Ohio, and is investing more than $750 million to build three plants in India.
The moves come as Ford APO prepares for a major restructuring of its operations. The plan, which Ford is to announce at the Frankfurt, Germany, auto show in early September, could push the carmaker's auto-parts division into complete modular systems on a more global basis.
The Dearborn, Mich., automaker will command a much larger presence in India when the trifecta of new facilities opens in 1998 near Madras. A large injection molding facility there will serve a major new assembly plant that could export cars to other Asian countries.
The company also has purchased a 35 percent interest in Toledo Molding & Die Inc. The large molder of plastic air-handling systems, which operates seven facilities in Ohio, makes most of its parts for Ford.
Ford is considering the manufacture of complete interior modules, or cockpits, which would figure prominently into plans for Toledo Molding's heating and air-conditioning systems.
The carmaker already has made its passage to India. Last year, Ford APO launched a 50-50 joint venture with Indian carmaker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. to make Ford vehicles under the name Mahindra Ford India Ltd. The venture now makes Ford Escort cars in Nashik, India.
Phase two of the expansion will be a new assembly plant in Maraimalai Nagar, India, expected to open in fall 1998. The plant, with more than 1 million square feet of space, will cost $600 million to $800 million and produce about 100,000 Ford Fiesta vehicles per year, said Boney Mathew, a consultant with Mathson Industries Inc. in Clarkston, Mich.
In addition, Ford APO has formed a joint venture with Halla Climate Control Ltd. of South Korea under the name ACD Automotive Engineering India Pvt. Ltd. The venture started construction of a 180,000-square-foot molding plant that will employ 500. The facility, estimated to cost $83 million, will be near the Fiesta assembly facility. Ford owns 75 percent of the joint venture.
That plant will produce climate-control parts and systems, including plastic radiator grilles and heating and air-conditioning systems. It also will mold instrument panel clusters and assemblies, plastic bumper fascias and other interior plastic parts.
Ford APO also will open a wholly owned, $60 million plant at the same site that will make electrical alternators and starters. The 140,000-square-foot plant, which will employ 500, will export much of its product outside India.
Both facilities are to open in July and be fully operational by October. The number of presses at the plastics molding plant has not been determined.
The Ford Mahindra operation should garner a 9.5 percent share of the Indian car market by the year 2000, according to a Mathson Industries study. Partly due to a healthy work environment, India could be primed for major growth in automotive production. While about 477,000 vehicles are made there today, production could almost double to 916,000 vehicles by the year 2000, Mathew said.
``Technical manpower is available in India at a reasonable rate,'' Mathew said. ``Ford could use the country to support its worldwide operations in Southeast Asia.''
Meanwhile, the carmaker's purchase of a piece of Toledo Molding helps the company forge an even stronger bond with the molder, said Ford spokesman Mike Parris. Ford was handed an option in 1992 to buy 18 percent of Toledo Molding but did not exercise it until Aug. 15. At that time, the company snapped up an additional 17 percent stake in the supplier.
``[Toledo Molding] is a healthy company with good management,'' said Parris, who did not reveal the specifics of the cash purchase. ``We won't run the company, but it's part of our global plan to work closely with good suppliers.''
The automotive supplier injection and blow molds a variety of air-handling products for Ford vehicles, including the cooling module for the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable. Those parts include radiator condensers, fan shrouds, blades, motors, radiator hoses and transmission lines.
Toledo Molding has 750 employees and recorded $112 million in sales last year.
Besides its Toledo headquarters, the company operates molding, assembly and prototyping facilities in Sycamore, Carey, Delphos and Bowling Green, Ohio. Equipment includes 52 injection presses with clamping forces of 85-1,760 tons and a newly installed single-shuttle blow molding machine that makes air-duct systems.
The supplier, which uses 40 different plastic resin materials, is considering an expansion within the next year to manage new Ford contracts for its redesigned Lincoln Continental and other luxury vehicles, Harbaugh said.
Toledo Molding also runs an extensive rapid-prototyping service bureau that includes the use of two Cubital prototyping machines and a vacuum-casting operation.
The prototyping operation works with more than 60 suppliers, Harbaugh said.