Flex-N-Gate Corp. is continuing to expand its reach in products and processes with an agreement to buy the former Visteon Corp. plant in Milan, Mich.
The site is one of the facilities spun off by Visteon into a Ford Motor Co. holding company, Automotive Components Holdings LLC, in 2005.
If the sale goes through, Urbana, Ill.-based Flex-N-Gate will add more injection molding capabilities for bumper fascia, and also will bring blow molding, thermoforming and fuel tank production into its offerings.
``This agreement will build on our relentless efforts to expand our customer base and product and service offerings,'' said Chief Executive Officer Shahid Khan in a Dec. 18 news release.
The companies did not disclose terms of the sale, and the deal is contingent on an agreement with the United Auto Workers union. The facility employs about 700.
Privately owned Flex-N-Gate has been a steadily growing force in the auto supply world.
Since its start as a metal bumper specialist in the 1970s, the company has expanded into multiple sites in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, gradually building up its customer and product base.
In 2001, it moved into plastics with its purchase of Ventra Group Inc. of Oakville, Ontario. That purchase allowed the firm to marry its metal structural capabilities with the plastic fascia molding of Ventra.
On the metal side, it acquired Veltri Metal Products Inc. in 2004 to boost its capabilities in structural metal components.
The company once known only for bumper systems now makes running boards, instrument panels and wheel guards via injection molding; and chassis, body stampings and heat shields within metal.
It has operations in North America, South America and Europe.
The purchase of the Milan plant would firm up its key supplier status within Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford, Khan said.
The facility turns out at least $300 million worth of fuel tanks - the majority of them for Ford - every year. But that business alone will not guarantee long-term success for Flex-N-Gate in the fuel tank business, noted Joel Kopinsky, a principal with ITB Group Ltd., a Novi, Mich.-based consulting group that has an annual conference on fuel systems.
Flex-N-Gate will have to hit the ground running if it really wants to compete with major tank makers like Inergy Automotive Systems, TI Automotive Ltd. and Textron Inc.'s Kautex unit, he said. And it will have to do it with a plant that has seen no major investments during a time in which other firms have been sinking money into new programs, and a range of new technology has come into use to improve production and meet environmental regulations.
``The technical competencies [at the Milan plant] aren't necessarily leading-edge anymore,'' Kopinsky said.