A German auto supplier wants to see its sophisticated interior components in U.S. vehicles and is searching for an acquisition in metro Detroit.
Fischer America Inc., the North American subsidiary of Fischerwerke Artur Fischer GmbH & Co. KG, wants to produce for U.S. automakers the custom-designed cup holders and storage boxes for recorded music that it has been making for European automakers for more than 20 years.
Fischer America set up an office in Southfield last year and has been talking with automakers and Tier 1 interior-systems suppliers since July, said Heinz-Peter Jansen, executive vice president.
Jansen said Fischer will seek to buy a small, privately owned injection molder with sales between $20 million and $50 million, or take over low-value product lines that a Tier 1 supplier wants to outsource.
``Fischer is a financially healthy company, has little debt and is in a position to move quickly and pay cash,'' Jansen told Crain's Detroit Business, a sister publication to Plastics News. ``When we decide, we will move.''
Depending on the acquisition path it takes, Jansen expects Fischer America to be established either in an office building or existing plant by the second half of 1998, initially hiring at least five engineers and support personnel.
Fischerwerke's Fischer Automotive Systems division produces both original equipment and replacement parts for all the European automakers, Jansen said, including Audi, BMW and Mercedes, its three main customers. Fischer specializes in limited-space applications, and its components are geared to low-volume production for higher-end vehicles, he said.
Besides cassette and compact disc storage systems and pop-up cup holders, Fischer Automotive makes credit-card holders and eyeglass holders that can be mounted on the dash or headliner.
Fischer Automotive's primary competitor for these kind of high-end components is the Prince automotive systems division of Johnson Controls Inc. in Holland, Mich., Jansen said. Johnson Controls purchased Prince, an interior-systems company, for $1.3 billion in mid-1996.
Auto components are not Fischer's core business. Founder Artur Fischer started the firm in 1948 by developing one of the first wall anchors. Fischer's wall-fastener business now includes all industrial applications, controlling more than half of the German market and nearly half of the European market. It has expanded worldwide to 17 countries, with plants under construction in China and South America.
A third division, Fischertechnik, makes solar-powered, molded plastic toys and computer-programmable models and construction kits. Some of the technical models are used as teaching aids and for university computer-simulation projects.
Total sales for all Fischer divisions in 1997 was about $352 million, Jansen said. Of that, the toy unit and the automotive division, which has doubled its sales in the past two years, account for around $20 million each. The president and chief executive officer of Fischer Group is Klaus Fischer, Artur Fischer's son.
Fischer Automotive's entry into North America was triggered by a contract it landed more than two years ago with General Motors Corp. to provide a CD-storage box for the Buick Riviera.
Right now, the Riviera is the only Big Three-built vehicle Fischer supplies, said Louis Farkas, Fischer's senior key account manager. But it also is supplying parts from Germany to the new Mercedes plant in Alabama and the new BMW plant in South Carolina, Farkas said.
Fischer is on the bidder list for future GM work, and the automaker is considering using Fischer's cup holders in luxury vehicles like the Cadillac and Corvette, said Nestor Barrera, GM's chemical commodity manager.
``Fischer parts have a lot of features in their cup holder design,'' Barrera said, noting the way the Mercedes' cup holder pops up and turns to hold a cup at a convenient angle.
Fischer America is having ongoing discussions with Textron Automotive Co., JCI and Lear Corp. about working with those firms, Farkas said.
``[Fischer's] products are very innovative, very unique,'' said Ed Kowalski, senior product development engineer with Lear's advanced new-product development division in Southfield.
``I haven't seen devices with the engineering behind them that [Fischer] has shown us,'' he said. ``Lear is looking to integrate value-added content into its interior-trim components, and that is what Fischer has to offer.''
While the fastener business is enjoying slow, steady growth worldwide, Fischer sees real potential growth in its automotive division.
``If we keep at these product lines, we can run a very interesting automotive business that is financially also very interesting,'' Jansen said.
Jansen is president and CEO of JanSar Inc., a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based international management and consulting company. He has been working with Fischer for more than a year to bring the firm to North America, and he expects to stay with its executive management until Fischer America is structured and running, he said.