In Europe, French auto supplier Faurecia SA is a giant, supplying seats, instrument panels, front-end modules and exhaust systems to automakers throughout the continent.
The company is the second-largest automotive industry supplier in the region. Worldwide, it still falls within the top 10.
But in North America, industry insiders still are guessing how to pronounce the name.
``Clearly, we are smallish by U.S. standards,'' said Faurecia Chief Executive Officer and President Pierre Levi during an interview at an Oct. 12 grand opening for the firm's seating plant in Auburn Hills. ``We are not going to [expand in North America] with a plan just to grow. We're trying to bring something special to our customers.''
But it is growing, making seats for General Motors Corp. and with a contract in hand for more than $1 billion in business with DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler group.
A plant like the 100,000-square-foot facility in the northern Detroit suburbs is just the start, and provides the company with more exposure to traditional North American automakers.
``We want steady growth, but this also shows that the bigger we are [here], the more we can optimize our development teams,'' he said.
The Chrysler business will do even more, worth an estimated $1.8 billion in sales by 2006, producing instrument panels, door panels, center consoles and other components.
That is a big jump from just five years ago when the Nanterre, France-based business won its first major interior contract in the United States, signing on with GM to make seats for its midsize cars.
``At that time, it did cause a bit of a concern because [Faurecia] had no infrastructure here,'' said Gene Stefanyshyn, vehicle line executive for GM's new G6 cars.
A year later, Faurecia purchased fellow French company Sommer-Allibert, picking up that firm's interior supply operations in the United States for BMW AG.
The first phase of its GM contract launched in 2003 with the opening of a Riverside, Mo., seating plant to supply the Malibu and Malibu Maxx.
The $14.3 million Auburn Hills facility, making seats for the G6 assembled about a mile away in Lake Orion, Mich., opened in August with 138 employees. A second shift will start in January.
``We expect to rise in North America because of the boost from GM,'' said Bob Scales, Faurecia's vice president for its GM business unit. ``They placed a lot of trust in us five years ago.''
Faurecia is coordinating with 31 subsuppliers in Auburn Hills. Two are Faurecia units - a Bradford, Ontario, seat-frame production business and the cut and sew operations of its Puebla, Mexico, plant. The firm also has forged relationships with the injection molders of seat handles, electronics specialists and urethane foam producers.
``We tend to replicate our [production] system we have anywhere else we go,'' Levi said.
Faurecia will rely on good operators that can provide standard parts, he said, leaving the firm with more time and money to invest in elements of the modules that set the car apart from its competitors.
With a strong foothold established in North America through the GM contract, Levi wants to see the business expand to an estimated $1.9 billion in sales in the region within three years, up from the current $1.3 billion. The number of production sites will double, he said.
``Nowhere has our growth been more spectacular than in North America,'' he said. ``I'm convinced this is only a first step.''
And as it expands, it will bring more of its expertise to the United States, which is likely to include further investments in plastics.
``The interior offers fantastic potential for differentiation,'' Levi said. Improving safety, enhancing the way electronics are packaged all can play a part, he said. In one venture, Faurecia and Swedish carmaker Volvo collaborated in designing the center stack on the S40 to turn it into a narrow unit similar to the remote control people use at home for their televisions.
``This is just a thin piece of plastic that changes your mind-set of what is possible,'' he said.
Faurecia has taken the proposal even further by marrying it in a concept cockpit with a transparent acrylic, making the electronic controls appear suspended over the structure.
As it makes a name for itself in North America, Levi noted Faurecia's French managers can live with multiple pronunciations of the firm's name - either the proper ``for-see-yuh'' or the commonly used alternative ``for-shyuh.'' But he jokes he is accustomed to adjusting to changing accents, since his own name tends to shift in pronunciation as well.