Cie. Plastic Omnium SA plans to add thermoset auto parts to its growing stable of products.
The Paris-based firm, already a major player worldwide in thermoplastic auto parts, has formed a joint venture with Inoplast SA of Ardeche, France, to make parts from sheet molding compound and other thermosets.
The 50-50 venture, completed Oct. 23, will allow Omnium to develop and market SMC-based auto products, a new line for the French conglomerate. The firm plans to begin making rear-opening assemblies, mainly exterior parts that include trunk lids, hatchbacks and rear-opening hoods.
Inoplast currently makes those exterior parts for French automakers and others in Europe. It has 850 employees and recorded 1997 sales of 650 million French francs ($117 million).
Omnium plans to capitalize on Inoplast's thermoset processing skills to sell new auto parts worldwide, said Philippe Claye, president of Plastic Omnium Industries Inc., the firm's North American subsidiary based in Anderson, S.C. In North America, Omnium already has received inquiries from customers about making SMC-based parts, he said.
``The welcome we're receiving from the market is good,'' Claye said. ``I think it's valuable that [Inoplast] is bringing specific technology to us. The demand is truly there.''
The firm will face strong competition for SMC parts from such U.S. competitors as Cambridge Industries Inc. of Madison Heights, Mich., and Budd Co. Plastics Division of Troy, Mich. Those two firms control a majority of the North American SMC-parts market and make SMC products for such applications as exterior body components, powertrain parts and less-visible structural assemblies. Automakers are projected to use 237.1 million pounds of SMC in 1998, according to figures from the Automotive Composites Alliance of Troy.
Omnium has a size advantage over some of the competition. The firm recorded sales of $1.4 billion worldwide last year and is considered one of the largest plastic-parts suppliers in Europe.
The molder has been on an aggressive track, opening new plants and forming several recent joint ventures worldwide. Those ventures include a project with Brussels, Belgium-based Solvay Automotive Inc. to make fuel tanks in Brazil and another venture with Paris-based Valeo SA, formed in 1997, to make instrument panel cockpits in Europe.
Those joint ventures, including the Inoplast marriage, are the best means for the debt-laced company to grow quickly, said equity analyst Oliver Pouteau of Paris-based CPR Finance SA.
``They don't have the financial situation to do these projects alone,'' Pouteau said. ``By creating a joint venture, they can grow aggressively without having to come up with all the capital.''
The amount of the investment by Inoplast and Plastic Omnium in the joint venture was not known, Pouteau said. Inoplast officials and an Omnium official managing the joint venture in Paris were both unavailable.
The venture will be known as Inoplastic Omnium, said a company news release.
Claye said it was too soon for the newly formed company to decide where the SMC parts will be made or whether new plants will be built to support the joint venture.