Lear Corp. stepped up its pursuit of a European customer base last week with the acquisition of Germany's Keiper Car Seating GmbH & Co.
Keiper, a jewel of the global automotive seating industry, has been pursued by major seat makers for several months.
Last week, Lear agreed to pay Putsch GmbH & Co. $235 million for Keiper and its partnerships. That includes a joint venture between Keiper and Lear's Canadian-based competitor, Magna International Inc. A Lear spokeswoman declined to comment on how that inherited relationship would be handled.
The Keiper acquisition gives Lear broad new entree into Mercedes-Benz products made in Germany and Brazil, as well as products of Porsche, Volkswagen and Audi. Approximately 44 percent of Keiper's business is with Daimler-Benz AG, including the automaker's C-class and E-class vehicles.
Daimler is preparing to launch a new large-volume world car - the small A class - with a plant in Europe and another in Brazil.
'Keiper is a trophy asset, as far as seating companies go,' said Nick Colas, auto analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston in New York. 'Everyone has been trying to buy Keiper. It is associated with the world's best technology. Whoever acquires Keiper acquires that image.'
In recent weeks, Lear announced new intentions to court more European business. In April, Robert Rossiter, president of the Southfield, Mich., company, moved his office to Germany in order to focus more attention on Lear's European sales and operations. Rossiter said Lear wanted to be nearer to the decision-makers on existing and potential European world-car programs.
Keiper gives Lear 10 new seating assembly plants around the world, in Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Africa and Hungary. Another operation in Delaware serves General Motors' Chevrolet Malibu production.
With 1996 sales of $615 million, Keiper was one of Europe's largest seating suppliers. Lear is the third-largest original-equipment supplier to North America, according to Automotive News rankings. It had 1996 North American sales of $4.4 billion.
Keiper is the second European seat maker to be sold in the past 30 days. Earlier in May, Magna paid $51.8 million to acquire United Kingdom-based Tricom Group Holdings Ltd., a Ford Motor Co. and GM supplier with sales of about $100 million a year. At that time, Magna also believed itself still in the running to pick up Keiper.