A victim of too few nearby automakers, a Grand Prairie, Texas-based plastic auto trim plant owned by Guardian Automotive Products Group is scheduled to close in early March.
Guardian, a producer of both exterior trim and vehicle window systems, had taken control of the 185,000-square-foot manufacturing plant as part of its 1988 acquisition of injection molder Windsor Plastics Inc.
At its peak, the plant employed 125 and molded computer housings and electronic parts for firms such as Tandy Corp. of Fort Worth, Texas, said Guardian spokeswoman Kathryn Armstrong.
However, in recent years, the plant's office equipment business dwindled as the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company shifted its focus, said President Jack Sights in a prepared statement. After unsuccessfully attempting to inject new auto trim business there, the company decided to shutter the site, Sights said.
``As Guardian's focus and strategy within the plastics arena evolved to reflect an emphasis on the automotive sector, we began to exit from our participation in the office equipment industry,'' Sights said. ``As such, the Grand Prairie facility was no longer a forward component of [our] strategy. Consequently, over the last 18 months, we have wound down operations [there].''
The plant, which opened in 1983, now employs about 80, Armstrong said. After shifting away from office equipment in the early 1990s, the company gradually brought in plastics trim business, including front and rear grilles, headlight systems and door panel inserts.
But Guardian found that the parts, molded from ABS, polycarbonate and other thermoplastics, could be made less expensively at facilities closer to auto assembly plants, Armstrong said. Virtually the only nearby production facility was a General Motors Corp. plant in Arlington, Texas, that Guardian did not supply.
Instead, the plant shipped parts to Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and other regions of North America, Armstrong said. Shipping costs at the facility, which primarily conducted work for Ford Motor Co., had grown too high, she said.
``It really didn't make sense for us to continue there,'' Armstrong said. ``Especially when we have plants providing quality work in other areas closer to automakers.''
Guardian, a division of Auburn Hills-based Guardian Industries Inc., has six other trim plants in North America. Two facilities are located in LaGrange, Ga., with other plants in Covington, Ga.; Evansville, Ind.; Warren, Mich.; and Morehead, Ky.
The 300,000-square-foot Morehead plant opened in late December, after the company invested $44 million in the state-of-the-art injection molding and plating facility. In December, Guardian also bought a 70 percent share in Lab Radio, a trim supplier in Valencia, Spain.
``The [Grand Prairie] location was not a good one for them,'' said consultant Mark Santucci of Elm Group International Inc., an automotive research firm in East Lansing, Mich. ``It would be hard for them to compete for any market in Mexico because it is so much more expensive [in Texas]. They inherited a plant they probably didn't need and found it much more efficient to go elsewhere.''
The company is ranked 16th on Plastics News' list of North American injection molders, with $200 million in related sales during 1996. According to the survey, the company operated about 80 injection presses in North America two years ago.