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4. DuPont: Paint job

DuPont Automotive's presence in our Top Five was predictable. In a modern assembly plant, the most costly operation is the paint shop. And only a few paint makers have the technical knowledge to supply them.

Thus, it is no surprise that DuPont's technical centers are key to its overseas growth. When the company decides to enter a market, it dispatches a sales representative to identify prospects.

Next, the company sets up a technical center to work with potential customers. Once it has agreed to supply a new customer, DuPont seeks a partner to produce the paint. Depending on the circumstances, the company will form a joint venture or make an acquisition.

When it builds a factory, DuPont relies on local managers to run its operations.

'Joint ventures are like marriages,' says Walter Fields, vice president of DuPont's engineering materials operation. 'They take a lot of work, but they can really pay off.'

Like Autoliv, DuPont has a strong presence in Europe and North America and has established a modest - but growing - market niche in Asia. Last year, North America accounted for 50 percent of DuPont Automotive's $5.1 billion sales, while Europe produced 35 percent. Asia delivered 10 percent of sales and other markets 5 percent.

Like other Top Five companies, DuPont has had long experience in foreign markets. The company entered the automotive business in 1911, when it started producing coated canvas tops for cars.

DuPont expanded its presence overseas in the 1920s, when it made a couple of acquisitions. Fields says DuPont's most promising markets are Eastern Europe, South America and Asia.

Which will grow fastest? 'If I knew that, I'd be a wealthy man,' says Fields. Fair enough, Walter.

You can reach Chaz Osburn at autonews@crain.com

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