GRAZ, Austria - Hubert Hoedl, sales and marketing boss at Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik, is seeking a third major customer for niche-car production in Graz.
Steyr already builds vehicles for DaimlerChrysler and has a contract to produce cars for Saab. But it wants more.
'We are looking for a third large OEM like Ford or Volkswagen,' said Hoedl.
The Graz facilities - called 'Alpine Detroit' in Austria - build the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Mercedes-Benz G-wagen, M-class and E-class 4-Matic.
It is already preparing to build 20,000 Saab cabriolets, starting in 2002. A contract for production of a Saab Coupe could follow.
Steyr insiders say they have high hopes for a niche-car production deal with Volkswagen. Steyr already produces components for VW group models, including the Audi TT and allroad. Now it wants Volkswagen to sign up for more.
Last month, VW Chairman Ferdinand Piëch visited Steyr's facilities along with product development boss Martin Winterkorn and purchasing chief Francisco Xavier Garcia Sanz.
Steyr is also looking for assembly work from Premier Automotive, Ford's luxury car group, Hoedl said.
'We can design the car from scratch to the production model,' he said. 'We can engineer it, test it and produce it. We are first to produce two completely differently designed vehicles on one production line - the Mercedes M-class sport-utility and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The M-class chassis has a frame; the Jeep is a monocoque.'
There is a new lease of life for the oldest model built in Graz, the G-wagen off-roader now used mainly as a military vehicle.
The US Marine Corps was recently searching - on the Internet - for an off-roader that could be used for saltwater landing operations. Steyr responded and within a few weeks agreed to supply redesigned G-wagens to the Marines. Sixty-eight vehicles - with changed dimensions to fit into the latest US military transport plane, the vertical take-off Osprey CV22 - are in worldwide tests by the Marines.
Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik, which is owned by Magna International, built 82,000 cars and sport-utilities in 1999. But capacity is 150,000.
'We want to fill that capacity,' Hoedl said.
One growing opportunity for contract manufacturers is 'peak shaving.' That refers to when automakers launch cars with heavy demand at the beginning that cannot be satisfied by start-up production.
'It is usually just for a short time,' said Hoedl. 'But if you plan this cleverly it is possible to make good money out of this helping hand for the large OEMs.'
While Steyr can design the car, basic engine development is left to nearby AVL in Graz. Steyr and AVL have a joint laboratory for special sound and electronic tests.
Prototype building is a new product line for Steyr. A new building is being constructed for that purpose.