INTERIOR PARTS supplier Sommer Allibert SA plans to join the list of automotive suppliers moving to Brazil.
The company, based in Nanterre, France, expects to start production in August at a new factory in Curitiba, southern Brazil. The plant will make injection-molded parts for instrument panels, door panels and glove-box doors.
Sommer Allibert plans to invest $50 million to build the 12,000-square-meter plant and add equipment.
The factory will be Sommer Allibert's first fully owned plant in South America. It will lay the groundwork for future contracts with a number of European and US automakers coming to Brazil, said purchasing engineer Stephane Beauchamp of the company's Curitiba-based South American division, called SAI Autopecas.
Sommer Allibert expects to begin work next year with Renault SA, Volkswagen do Brasil SA and Audi AG, he said.
Beauchamp said return on investment could take some time. The Brazilian economy has been slowed by the ongoing financial turmoil in Asia.
'It's a new, big market, but I'd have to say business has been a bit less than expected,' he said. 'But we have a three-year startup, and we expect to have quite a bit of business in the longer term. Many companies are moving here in expectation of strong market forecasts in the future.'
Sommer Allibert has plenty of company in Brazil. General Motors and Ford Motor Co. together have invested more than $5 billion to set up assembly plants in the country, joining many European and Asian carmakers.
The facility will employ about 50 when it begins production in late summer. This will rise to 300.
Next year, the plant will begin molding parts for Renault's Megane Scenic compact minivan, the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. By 2000, the company expects plant sales to exceed $43 million, Beauchamp said.
The facility will start with seven injection presses, with a clamping force ranging from 850-3,200 tonnes, and two thermoforming lines. The plant will primarily produce instrument panel parts from polypropylene and an ABS/polycarbonate blend, and door panel parts from ABS and polypropylene.