Lear Corp. plans to build three new technology centers in Europe, two of them focused on electronics.
The new facilities will support Lear's push into what it calls 'intertronics,' the blending of electronics and interiors.
Meanwhile, the US supplier is building several plants around Europe to handle new supply contracts.
'Lear wants to be seen as an interior electronics company,' said Robert Rossiter, president and CEO, at the Paris auto show.
Next year Lear will open an engineering center in Kronach, Germany, for electronic multimedia, telematics and safety systems.
Lear is also planning a new intertronics center in Valls, Spain, near Barcelona. The 3,600-square-meter facility will open in 2002. It will employ 350.
The intertronics center will be next to Lear's existing European Technology Center for smart junction boxes and advanced electrical distribution systems.
Lear projects strong growth in the electronic multimedia and tele-matics segment. It recently announced its first-ever electronics contract from Audi for a future vehicle.
Lear also said it has won a contract in Europe - for a rear-seat entertainment system. It did not name the customer.
Lear said it will build a third technology center in Europe to focus on seating design, material selection and electronics integration. But the company did not specify its location or say when it would start operating.
Rossiter said Lear expects sales of more than $4 billion in Europe this year, up from $3.9 billion in 1999. Last year's European sales made up 32 percent of Lear's total revenue. Lear employs 3,600 in Europe.
Rossiter said 58 percent of Lear's $3.3 billion order backlog is in Europe.
'A good portion of [the European] business is in electronics,' said Rossiter. 'We feel that we have a pretty good platform for growth in electronics.'
Lear announced several other new European contracts at the Paris auto show.
Lear said it would build a plant in Madrid to make seats for two current PSA/Peugeot-Citroen vehicles. It will build another plant in Aulnay, France, supply PSA with seats.
Those sites will supplement Lear's existing PSA seat production centered at Cergy-Pontoise, France.
This month, Lear opens a seating plant in Genk, Belgium, to supply Ford's new Mondeo.
The 8,100-square-meter Genk site will eventually employ 400. Seats will be delivered in sequence to the Ford production line.
Next year Lear will start seat production for a new luxury sports model at a 6,840-square-meter site in England. The new facility will include a logistics center for trim and acoustic materials and an electrical center. Its location was not disclosed,
Lear is also planning to add production capacity in Zweisel, Germany; Offranville, France; and Slovakia for hard trim, doors and instrument panels. Lear recently established door panel production in Offranville for a future Opel vehicle.
Rossiter said despite Lear's 17 acquisitions in the past five years most of its future growth will be internal.
He acknowledged that auto suppliers' weak stock prices have reduced Lear's ability to grow by acquisition.
'We're concerned, as everyone is, but we can't really control that,' said Rossiter. 'We've got to focus on the things that we do the best. We are going to continue to grow and make sure all our businesses are profitable.'
Although there has been a slowdown in the pace of consolidation in the industry, Rossiter expects it to accelerate again as companies seek to expand their areas of expertise.
Said Rossiter: 'Our customers are really looking at buying more modules.'