In 2003, Mann + Hummel Automotive Inc. was coming off a record year of $120 million in sales in North America, and Claude Mathieu, president and chief operating officer, predicted the firm would hit a sales target of $200 million in 2008.
The Portage, Mich.-based U.S. unit of German auto supplier Mann + Hummel GmbH passed that prediction a year early - in 2007 - and with another $20 million to spare, a big sales growth for a firm that only entered the North American market 10 years earlier.
And despite a slowdown in auto production in the region, the company is continuing to grow, with a 50,000-square-foot expansion under way at its plant in Queretaro, Mexico.
Expansion is continuing globally as well. Mann + Hummel is now training employees for its new plant near Bangalore, India, with production starting later this year on injection molded plastic air-intake manifolds and filtration systems. The company also recently purchased land near Delhi, India, for another plant that will supply automakers in northern India within the next two years.
Growth is coming from production in new regions like Asia and Eastern Europe, through the development of new products and by shifting production from established plants to new sites, said Wilfried Lehr, managing director of Mann + Hummel's automotive original equipment division, during an April 16 press event in Detroit.
Overall, Mann + Hummel GmbH listed sales of about 1.6 billion euros ($2.5 billion) in 2007, a 9.9 percent increase from 2006, making cylinder head covers, intake manifolds and air and oil filters directly for automakers and the aftermarket.
Mann + Hummel Inc. opened its Queretaro plant in 2004, moving from a space it had outgrown near Mexico City.
The current expansion will bring blow molding back to the company in North America, with Mann + Hummel investing in suction blow molding. The company had standard blow molding at its U.S. operations at one time, but phased out that production in favor of buying blow molded parts from other suppliers.
The North American offices also will pick up production of some parts now made in Germany for North American customers. Because of the rising value of the Euro compared with the U.S. dollar, it makes more sense to transfer work to regions where production is less expensive, Lehr said.
When Mann + Hummel first began production in North America with its acquisition of Geiger Technic Inc. of Portage, Mich., vibration welded thermoplastic air- intake manifolds were still a niche product in the U.S. Now they are used throughout the industry, and the company is introducing new plastic parts for use on the road.
The company will make a glass-filled nylon oil pan, starting in 2009 for a passenger car in North America, becoming a leader in using thermoplastics to replace stamped steel or aluminum for the pans. The only vehicle currently being produced with a thermoplastic oil pan is a commercial tractor-trailer truck.
Molders have been able to make oil pans for years, but automakers were not interested in replacing their existing metal parts, said John Baumann, business development manager. But now with fuel economy becoming a bigger issue for carmakers and drivers alike, plastics' weight savings of 20-35 percent over steel or aluminum is winning new attention. The oil pan also can integrate other functional parts to reduce overall costs.
``It's always been about price first when it comes to sourcing parts,'' Baumann said. ``But now, with weight and fuel economy becoming a regulatory issue, it's giving us a strategic opportunity.''
Another new product will make its debut within two years when M+H will launch production of a blow molded ``sound pipe,'' which allows carmakers to alter the sound of their car engines to produce a sporty or more powerful sound. Automakers can now manipulate sounds through electronics or resonators in the intake manifold, but the polypropylene pipe is less expensive and easier to add to an existing engine, according to Baumann.
The flexible pipe is attached to a rubber membrane - tightened like a drum head over the end of the pipe - which vibrates when sound waves hit it, changing the sound.