Hella Behr Plastic Omnium, a joint venture that builds and designs front-end modules for the auto industry, is making a breakthrough in North America, with three assembly sites set to open this year.
HBPO does the bulk of its business in Europe, where front-end modules - which include headlights, engine cooling units, carriers, electronics and other parts - have been used for more than a decade. Less than $200 million of HBPO's $716 million in annual sales came from North America in 2006.
But the concept is catching on, growing from work with European automakers in North America to new contracts with U.S.-based carmakers.
In 2005, the company opened an assembly plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, to supply the modules for Ford Motor Co.'s Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ vehicles.
The three plants opening this year - in Toluca, Mexico; Windsor, Ontario; and St. Louis - will supply DaimlerChrysler Corp. Chrysler vehicles, said Emmanuel Boudon, president of HBPO North America Inc., during an April 16 interview at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2007 World Congress in Detroit.
HBPO North America is based in Troy, Mich. The global company is based in Lippstadt, Germany.
The three new sites, each with about 60,000 square feet, will not include plastics processing, but will assemble the front-end systems.
The Toluca plant also will assemble a rear lift gate made of sheet molded compound by parent Plastic Omnium SA.
Plastic Omnium is an exterior plastics specialist based in Levellois, France. In 2004, it entered the existing joint venture between lighting maker Hella KG Hueck & Co. of Lippstadt, Germany, and heating and cooling part supplier Behr GmbH of Stuttgart, Germany.
Like other HBPO facilities, the new plants will draw on the specialties of its parent companies, though HBPO sometimes buys parts from other suppliers, Boudon said.
North American automakers are working more closely with HBPO on future products.
``The real influence is in design and engineering, and we are doing more of that,'' he said.
The three new sites will join HBPO assembly facilities in the Czech Republic, England, Germany, Slovakia, Spain and South Korea. The company made 1.9 million front-end modules globally in 2006.