DETROIT — Lear Corp. has invaded the Italian plastic parts market with the purchase of two of the country's large automotive molders.
The acquisitions, if they are approved, would boost Lear's expertise in Europe to make molded plastic interior parts. The purchase also opens the door wider for Lear in reaction injection molding and thermoset compression work.
Lear signed a definitive agreement April 7 to buy Gruppo Pianfei srl of Pianfei, Italy, and Strapazzini Resine srl of Pesaro, Italy. Together, the companies recorded about $130 million in 1997 sales and operate eight plastics molding plants.
Pianfei, the larger of the two, posted about $100 million of that sales total.
The sale price was not disclosed by Southfield, Mich.-based Lear. Analyst Richard Hilgert of Detroit-based First of Michigan Corp. estimated the transaction to be worth $60 million to $100 million, depending on the plants' condition.
The sale is to close by late May, said Lear spokesman Bert Serre. The firms enhance Lear's ability to make complete interior systems worldwide, Serre said.
``What attracted us to them was [their] work in door panels, instrument panels, headliners and other [interior] parts,'' Serre said. ``These are all areas that complement our business in Europe and help us get to new markets.''
While Lear is a dominant player in seat manufacture, it has captured less than 10 percent of the headliner and instrument panel markets worldwide, he said.
``These are products and product areas that Lear needs to grow,'' Hilgert said. ``Even with the Delphi acquisition, their debt load has been reduced enough to support this deal. It sounds like a good one.''
In February, Lear signed an agreement to purchase the seating operations of Delphi Automotive Systems, a free-standing unit of General Motors Corp. based in Troy, Mich. Some analysts expected that deal to be worth about $450 million.
The Italian purchase merges two former competitors under one umbrella company. Pianfei, considered one of Europe's large molders of thermoset parts, makes door panels, headliners and exterior trim components from six plants in Italy.
The company, which employs 870, also is a minority partner in joint ventures with companies in Brazil, India, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey.
Pianfei operates about 100 compression and injection presses with clamping forces of 300-1,800 tons, said Sergio Verardini, Pianfei marketing and business development director. The firm performs some sheet forming work using a water-based process to bond different materials.
The family-owned company, which began in 1880, saw Lear's advances as an opportunity to become a larger player in interior systems, Verardini said. Pianfei has been owned by the Fulcheri family for more than a century.
``They can take us to parts of Europe and get us into products that we could not do on our own,'' he said.
The Italian processor is the 10th-largest independent supplier of door panels and the fifth-largest headliner supplier in Europe, Verardini said. The company's largest customer is Fiat SpA, and many Pianfei plants are located near Fiat assembly sites.
Pianfei has developed a complete interior roof system for Fiat-owned Italian truck maker Iveco. Besides Fiat, the company works with BMW AG, Chrysler Corp., Industrie Pininfarina SpA and Daimler-Benz AG, makers of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Strapazzini Resine, with 200 employees, operates two plants in Italy and has a minority stake in two other joint ventures in South America. The firm does most of its work for Fiat's high-end vehicles in instrument and door panels, and headliner parts.
It uses thermoplastics and makes extensive use of reaction injection molding, Verardini said. The company also has a patented process to mold fabric to plastic door panels, Serre said.
Lear also is buying Strapazzini Resine's Protos srl engineering division in Pesaro, Italy.
Lear recorded $7.3 billion in 1997 sales.
The company ranked second on Plastics News' list of North American injection molders in 1996, with $615 million in injection molding sales.