LONDON - Textron Automotive Co. expects its new German subsidiary to quadruple its sales of plastic fuel tanks in the next three years. Most of that growth will be in North America.
Textron also expects to increase its sales of high-tech plastic instrument panels in Europe. The engineering expertise is based in North America, but the products will be manufactured in the Netherlands.
Earlier this year Textron bought out Marley Foam Ltd., its joint-venture partner in a plant in Born, the Netherlands.
'That will give us more flexibility,' said John Janitz, chairman of Textron Automotive, in an interview after he toured Textron's European operations.
The Born factory has been supplying instrument panels for the Ford Mondeo in Genk, Germany, and the Chrysler Voyager in Graz, Austria. He said the plant has won some business with NedCar, the Volvo-Mitsubishi joint venture in the Netherlands, but he did not give details.
The German subsidiary, Kautex Textron, is based in Bonn. Textron Automotive, based in Troy, Mich., bought Kautex last summer. Textron Automotive ranks No. 28 on the Automotive News list of top original equipment suppliers to North America.
The acquisition instantly changed Textron from a North American company to an international one. Formerly, 94 percent of Textron Automotive's business was in North America. The figure has dropped to 70 percent with the addition of Kautex and the Valeo Wiper Systems Ltd. business in the United Kingdom that Textron purchased last year.
Kautex sells 2 million plastic fuel tanks a year now, said Janitz. He expects that to rise to 8 million a year by 2000. He said that would give Kautex global leadership in plastic fuel tanks.
In Europe, 60 percent of cars use plastic fuel tanks, while in North America the figure is 30 percent and in Asia it is only 5 percent. Plastic tanks are lighter, less permeable to evaporation and can be molded into complex shapes.
Janitz said Textron Automotive was strong enough in Europe now to grow by increasing sales with existing resources.
In general, he said, 'the next frontier is to expand the trim business' in Europe.
Textron Automotive has been growing rapidly: sales of $700 million in 1991 rose to $1.5 billion in 1995, and will be $2 billion this year. He expects $3 billion in sales in four years' time.