A Cie. Plastic Omnium SA venture plans to enter the thin ranks of North American automotive thermoset molders by opening a plant in Mexico within two years.
Plastic Omnium, based in Levallois, France, will launch a facility in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, to make exterior parts from sheet molding compound, said Philippe Gaultier, vice president in charge of North American operations for Plastic Omnium's joint venture with Inoplast SA.
The plant will be part of that 50-50 joint venture, announced in November, between injection molder Plastic Omnium and European SMC parts producer Inoplast, based in Saint Desirat, France. The venture is known as Inoplast Omnium.
The Mexico plant will be the first for the joint venture. The facility initially will make SMC-based tailgate parts—including rear-opening hoods, trunk lids and hatchbacks— for a new General Motors Corp. vehicle due out in model year 2002, Gaultier said.
According to GM policy, vehicle details cannot be released until it is launched. Gaultier said the Buick-brand sport utility vehicle would be a hybrid mixing features from several other programs.
SMC exterior parts are found on a variety of GM vehicles, including the Buick Regal and Riviera, according to information from the Southfield, Mich.-based Automotive Composites Alliance.
GM passenger cars used 22 million pounds of SMC parts for the 1999 model year, according to alliance figures.
The new Buick will be a means to get a running start in North America for SMC parts, Gaultier said. The company plans to make more than 300 parts per day for the vehicle, he said.
``We're trying to be fairly low profile,'' Gaultier said in a telephone interview May 18. ``We want to succeed with our first opportunity before we start another program. But there is a large need for SMC parts today and a shortage of suppliers.''
In North America, Cambridge Industries Inc. of Madison Heights, Mich., dominates the SMC parts market. A small number of other passenger-car competitors include Budd Co. Plastics Division of Troy, Mich., and Bailey Corp., a division of Venture Holdings Trust of Fraser, Mich.
The industry has grown so small that new Cambridge President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kazanowski said last week his firm will not consider buying another SMC molder. Automakers want to preserve some competition among suppliers, he said.
Within the past decade, Cambridge has bought a number of former competitors.
Details on Inoplast Omnium's new plant, including its size, still must be decided, Gaultier said. The plant must be ready to start production by June 2001. It will include a minimum of two compression presses with clamping forces of about 2,000-2,500 tons, Gaultier said.
The tailgate assemblies eventually could include some integrated parts, such as rear lighting, windshield wipers and wiring, he said. The systems also might be painted by Inoplast Omnium.
The facility will be part of a major new complex for Plastic Omnium. The supplier plans to open three plants to make bumper fascias and plastic fuel tanks in Ramos Arizpe.
The first plant, near a GM assembly site, is expected to open by early next year. Plastic Omnium also makes plastic fenders and bumper fascias for Volkswagen AG from an existing plant in Puebla, Mexico.
Plastic Omnium is centering its automotive-related growth on bumper fascias and fuel tanks. On May 11, the supplier agreed to sell its interiors business for $492 million to Visteon Automotive Systems of Dearborn, Mich.
Plastic Omnium had about $1.49 billion in 1998 sales. Inoplast's sales are estimated at $117 million.