UUSIKAUPUNKI, Finland - Valmet Automotive has fulfilled the expectations of one new customer, Porsche. After the first pre-series Boxsters had been coming off Valmet's assembly line for several weeks, Porsche spokesman Anton Hunger announced: 'We are enthusiastic about the quality, performance and fast work' of Valmet.
Series production is due to start in October. Valmet will build 5,000 units a year. This is the first time Porsche has built a car outside Germany.
Valmet currently assembles three cars: AutoVAZ's Lada Samara 2109, General Motors' Calibra and the Saab 900 cabriolet. The company has also designed the new Saab 900 coupe, with a flat profile and frameless windows, which will roll out with the next generation 900.
Uusikaupunki has built the Calibra since 1991, and it has been the sole source since 1995. Production will end in July, and the lines will be converted for the Boxster.
Valmet now seems well placed to assemble a proposed Porsche sport-utility.
Valmet's newest venture is an alliance with Adam Opel AG, AutoVAZ and the Russian development agency AVVA to build a plant in northwest Russia. There, Russian workers will be trained to build a new model, being developed for the Russian market by Opel.
Veli-Pekka Vasama, Valmet vice-president responsible for business development, says: 'The plant will produce cars by the end of 1998. Therefore, we have a very tight schedule.'
This plant is just the first step towards building 250,000 units a year at AutoVAZ's Togliatti plant.
Valmet does not just build production cars, it designs concept cars.
Valmet's Boreal - meaning Northwind - was based on the GM platform used by the Saab 900 and Opel Calibra. It was shown at the March Geneva auto show. The car features a folding steel top that opens in 20 seconds. The trunk remains accessible whether the top is up or down.
The Boreal was designed by Matti Kinnanen. It will not be produced, but Valmet will reveal another concept vehicle at the 1998 Geneva show.
Some of Valmet's customers have turned into competitors, as many carmakers now offer special versions they produce themselves.
'We have to cope with this situation,' says Vasama. 'On the other hand, Valmet offers a wide range of proficiencies, such as our new welding shop, paint shop and modern assembly facilities. We are confident we can strengthen cooperation with existing and new customers.'
The key element Valmet offers its customers, says Vasama, is that 'we are able to assemble several different models at the same time. With this flexibility and just-in-time-production we can change very quickly.'
Valmet has the capacity to produce 100,000 cars a year, he says. But Vasama is cautious about Valmet ever building a car of its own.
'Never say never,' he says. 'But developing a new model costs billions. We do not have the marketing organization. And then there is the risk.'
Vasama says Valmet was 'one of the very first companies to introduce the teamwork idea and flexible working times. We dismantled unnecessary hierarchies, so we have been able to do it in a democratic way.' He says such working practices have led to improved quality.
Valmet Automotive was founded in 1968 by Saab-Scania AB and the Finnish papermaking machinery manufacturer Valmet. Three years after GM bought half of Saab, Valmet bought the remainder of Valmet Automotive. More than 700,000 cars have been built at Valmet's plant since 1969.
Vasama predicts profits will be lower in 1997 than in 1996 because of model changes.