DETROIT — Lear Corp. is expanding its automotive molding joint venture with Bing Group, giving the partnership another chunk of the car business and a new name. Bing-Lear Manufacturing Group — formerly called Detroit Automotive Interiors — has taken over a $50 million exterior-mirror system previously operated by Lear in Berne, Ind.
The business transfer, for an undisclosed price, gives Bing-Lear its first exterior component, first injection molding line and access to new customers.
"Our initial read from our customer base has been very positive," Bing-Lear President Kirk Lewis said in a June 6 telephone interview. "We are currently supplying all of the Big Three [automakers]. This will give us an opportunity to focus on transplants as well."
The 350-employee Indiana business molds, paints and assembles exterior mirrors for Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler Corp.
Detroit-based Bing Group, led by Chairman Dave Bing, owns 51 percent of Bing-Lear. The venture was formed in 1996 to supply seats for the automotive industry. The Bing Group posted sales of $304 million in 1999.
Lear, based in Southfield, Mich., acquired the unit as part of its purchase of United Technologies Automotive last year.
The mirror business is a minor concern for Lear as a whole, but switching its operations to the joint venture will put it in the hands of a company that can give it more attention while allowing Lear to increase its contact with minority subsuppliers, company officials said. Bing is an African American.
"Lear is committed to growing its minority partner alliances as part of our continued effort to support and encourage supplier diversity," Lear Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth L. Way said in a written statement.
Bing-Lear does not have much background in mirrors, Lewis said, but the purchase provides it with an experienced work force.
"We need to get in and get a good understanding of the business," he said. "We acquired a company with a tremendous amount of mirror expertise."
At the same time, Bing-Lear leaders who have earned the venture a good reputation as an automotive supplier will begin parlaying their combined strengths to grab a bigger share of the total $600 million exterior-mirror market in North America.
Lear's minority stake, meanwhile, will allow the company to take advantage of the bigger supplier's technical experts and testing facilities to improve mirror systems, Lewis said.
Exterior mirrors must stand up to demands for decreased wind resistance, noise and vibration, Lewis said. Lear can help Bing-Lear engineer those improvements.
"It's not like you just slap a mirror on and drive away," Lewis said. "With Lear, we have the ability to make them better."
Lear also recently announced it has formed another joint venture, with NHK Spring Co. Ltd. of Yokohama, Japan.
The unit will create seating systems for Asian carmakers with a Yokohama office slated to open by September and include sales, engineering, and research and development operations.
The two companies also jointly operate facilities in the United States, Canada and Thailand. The new business marks Lear's first joint venture in Japan, said Andrea Puchalsky, director of corporate communications for Lear.