German automotive supplier Mann + Hummel GmbH plans to double production in North America, including new injection and blow molding lines.
The expansion could involve existing plants in South Bend, Ind., and Tlalnepantla, Mexico.
``It's a good time for us to strengthen our activities here,'' Chief Executive Officer Dieter Seipler said March 3 at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2003 World Congress in Detroit. ``We have many new ideas on how to proceed, and how to bring new technologies with cheaper solutions and higher integration through modules.''
The company posted sales in the United States of nearly $120 million for 2002 - double its 2001 effort - and also marked its first profitable year in the region.
Expansion could include two new assembly lines for its injection molded air-intake manifolds. The firm also will bring new blow molding equipment and technology to North America from Europe, and is looking to expand production of a plastic-housed engine oil module to North America, while also seeking complete module manufacturing.
``We do not yet have what we want to achieve here,'' Seipler said. ``I think we have good opportunities to bring in our newest products from our developments [in Europe].''
Mann + Hummel is based in Ludwigsburg, Germany, and has American headquarters in Portage, Mich. The firm already boosted sales through its acquisition of Solvay SA's air-induction systems last year. That purchase included the plant in South Bend.
M+H also has extensive blow molding capabilities in Europe, making technically demanding air ducts for diesel engines as well as other under-the-hood components. Currently the firm's blow molding operations in North America are limited to relatively simple bottles and containers for under-the-hood uses.
By comparison, the technology M+H is looking to import from Europe involves coextrusion, automated assembly and integrated components, said Richard Dishaw, director of sales and business development.
Complex air-intake manifolds and other engine management systems have been slow to catch on in North America, especially compared with Europe, where M+H and its competitors have leading roles in engine performance, said industry analyst Joel Kopinsky. Kopinsky is a principal with ITB Group Ltd., a Novi, Mich., consulting group that is completing a study on air-management systems.
``The North Americans are much more passive about their air-intake manifolds,'' he said.
European automakers that produce small engines for better fuel economy turn to highly engineered, integrated manifolds to improve overall performance. In North America, with far fewer demands for fuel efficiency, the tendency is to make bigger engines with basic manifolds. As a result, the stronger engineering programs are in Europe, with specialists making only small inroads in North America, he said.
But that could change with the growth of global engine design programs, Seipler said. DaimlerChrysler AG, for instance, is in the final stages of a planned small-engine system that would go into vehicles made under the Chrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi nameplates.
Likewise, an engine designed in Europe under Renault V.I. also could go to Asia or the United States for production through its stake in Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.
``We recognize that in becoming a global player, you have to be able to offer the same thing in all locations,'' he said.