DETROIT - The increased presence of DaimlerChrysler, Renault and Volkswagen in the USA is causing more European suppliers to market themselves in North America.
At this month's SAE World Congress, 80 French companies joined together on a mock concept car in an effort to gain attention. It was not so much a car as a 'vehicle' for the group's ambitions to sell in America.
The display represented the first time that any of the 80 manufacturers had ever marketed in the USA, according to Bruno Masurel, head of strategic marketing for industry development with the Lyon Chamber of Commerce.
What's more, behind the French concept-car campaign is a new online database containing 150 more French automotive firms that are also reaching out to the US market for the first time.
The suppliers arranged their components into a complex module of chassis, axle, engine, seating, body, interior and electronic systems to demonstrate the diversity of automotive suppliers in the Rhone-Alps region around Lyon. The region of southeastern France has thrived as a supplier base, though most of France's vehicle production occurs in the upper half of the country.
Masurel said the area is home to 900 automotive companies, representing about A10.6 billion in annual sales. That would indicate the average local firm has less than A12 million in sales.
'We believe there is a growing opportunity for these companies here in the USA,' Masurel explained. 'We have two goals - one, to make the US market aware of French products and services; and two, to show the US companies that this supplier base exists in that region to support its European needs.'
Masurel said the group believes there probably are US firms looking for strategic tie-ups with suppliers in the region as the Big 3 attempt to further penetrate the European market.
But European automakers are also becoming more active in North America.
Volkswagen AG, long depressed in this market, has rebounded over the past two years.
Last year, the German automaker said it is spending $1 billion to expand its already sprawling vehicle factory in Puebla, Mexico.
Renault SA last year bought control of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., which has given the French automaker a role in North America for the first time since the 1980s. Renault announced late last year that it will jointly produce vehicles at Nissan's auto plants in Mexico for that market and others.
DaimlerChrysler purchasing activities are in transition following the 1998 merger. The company's Mercedes manufacturing operations are expanding in the USA and Mexico.