TRW Inc. has boosted its worldwide stature as a supplier of plastic automotive parts by purchasing a German company and forming a joint venture in China.
TRW, one of the world's largest independent auto suppliers, announced the moves last week as a means to hike the global presence for its injection molded fasteners and air-management systems. Its fastener business, used to connect interior and under-the-hood parts, accounts for about 4 percent of the Cleveland company's $7 billion in annual automotive sales.
That figure may spike upward with the new purchases.
On March 16, the company completed the acquisition of Fickenscher & Co. GmbH, an injection molder of air registers and other interior parts, for an undisclosed price. Fickenscher, known in Europe for its multiple-shot molding techniques, operates from a plant in Selb, Germany.
TRW also has agreed to form a venture with Ningbo Yong Xing Automobile Parts Ltd. in Ningbo, China. Yong Xing, a molder of plastic fasteners and other parts, brings TRW a base to build its plastics operations in that once-forbidding country, said Ronald Vargo, vice president of planning and development for TRW's Automotive Electronics Group.
The arrangement is expected to be approved by the Chinese government within the next 60 days, Vargo said.
``It gives us a fasteners foothold in China and builds excellent relations with Chinese'' original equipment manufacturers, Vargo said. ``But we also plan to feed the plant with technology and products to serve a growing number of customers there. As a global automotive company, you have to start building those footholds early in emerging markets like China.''
TRW will own 70 percent of the joint venture with Yong Xing, an entrepreneurial, privately owned company, Vargo said. Ningbo, about 30 miles south of Shanghai near the East China Sea, is home to many Chinese plastics processors, Vargo said.
The company operates a single plant with about 60 workers, Vargo said. Plant size and equipment totals were unavailable. TRW also operates a joint venture to make automotive switches in Suzhou, China.
The Fickenscher acquisition broadens TRW's plastics product line and molding technology. Fickenscher, which recorded $12 million in 1997 sales, makes air diffusers, radio face plates and other precision parts primarily used on vehicle instrument panels or climate-control systems.
The firm, which also makes its own tools, uses a patented multishot process to mold parts in three or four different resins or colors in a single mold.
Fickenscher, which primarily sells its parts to German automakers and large suppliers, has about 200 employees. Its 60,000-square-foot plant includes 27 injection presses with clamping forces of 20-150 tons, plus milling and grinding machines, said Fickenscher administrative manager Roland Dorschner.
``We were searching for a strong partner to guarantee a safe future for our company in a region with high unemployment,'' Dorschner said of the family-owned company established in 1921.
TRW plans to use the German company's multishot technology to make fastening systems at its nearby plant in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, Germany, and to make electronic switches, Vargo said.
The purchases are part of a broader move by TRW into plastic engineered fasteners as a replacement for metal, said Derek Melvin, general manager of TRW Fastening Systems of North America, based in Westminster, Mass. In recent years, TRW has divested its interests in several metal fastener plants, he added.
The company's plastic fastening products include systems for wire harnesses, air ducts, door panels, interior trim and fuel and brake lines, Melvin said. In addition, less-visible molded pieces such as cable ducts, air-pressure relief valves, armrest plugs and grab handles are also folded into that TRW division, he added.
``The bulk of our fastener business is in plastics,'' Melvin said. ``It has a lot of advantages in weight and the ability to mold the part to any shape. A good majority of our work has been directed globally.''
A month ago, TRW opened a new plant in Queretaro, Mexico, devoted to both its better-known steering systems division and to plastic fasteners, Melvin said. More than a quarter of the 80,000-square-foot facility molds and assembles fasteners for domestic and European automakers, he said.
The site includes three molding presses with clamping forces of 120-500 tons.
Within the past six months, TRW also has set up molding work to make fasteners at an electronic-systems production plant in SÃo Paulo, Brazil, Melvin added.
TRW's engineered fastener business recorded sales of $250 million to $300 million last year, Melvin said. The company has approximately 13 fastening plants worldwide, including the joint venture in China.