Two of the world's largest suppliers of plastic composite air intake manifolds have formed a joint venture to go after a budding North American market for the engine components.
The companies - CMI International Inc. of Southfield, Mich., and Mecaplast International of Monaco - signed a letter of intent June 25 to pool their resources.
The partners will combine their abilities to boost sales of welded and lost-core manifolds and develop new plastics for engine components.
Welded manifolds are made by bonding two halves formed from a basic clamshell design. Lost-core manifolds are made by molding a plastic composite over a tin-bismuth core, and then melting and removing the metal to leave a hollow core.
CMI and Mecaplast also plan to open a joint manufacturing plant in North America within two years. The plant probably will make welded manifolds and other powertrain components and assemblies, said John Haley, CMI product manager for polymer engineering.
Ultimately, the companies hope to make complete air-intake systems for automakers. 'That's what carmakers are looking for,' Haley said. 'If we can combine related under-hood parts in one assembled system, we can cut costs significantly.'
The venture links two pioneering companies in the blossoming field of plastic manifolds. CMI and Mecaplast have a working relationship that began last October, when CMI started producing the manifolds, made from a glass-filled nylon material, at its Petersburg, Mich., plant.
The companies hope to take advantage of what they see as a strong potential U.S. market for welded manifolds.
'It's large in Europe, but in North America, no (carmaker) uses welded manifolds in current programs,' said Joel Kopinsky, principal of ITB Group Ltd., an automotive consulting firm in Novi, Mich. 'However, it's definitely coming. I expect to see quite a few welded manifolds start in production by around 2000.'
By that year, CMI predicts that welded manifolds will comprise about 12 percent of the North American market.
Mecaplast, with sales estimated at about $200 million in 1996, is one of Europe's largest producers of welded manifolds. It makes manifolds for PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA, Renault SA and Mercedes-Benz AG, among others, said Mecaplast development engineer Jerome Nardoux, who is stationed at CMI's technical center in Ferndale, Mich.
The company wants to increase its North American presence, Nardoux said. Mecaplast has five plastic-manifold manufacturing plants, but none in North America.
CMI, which had 1996 revenue of $618.3 million, expects to produce about 3 million manifolds annually through the 1999 model year, Haley said. The company makes manifolds primarily for the Big 3 and Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A.
CMI also operates five foundries that produce aluminum, iron and steel products and three machining and assembly centers.
The joint company is one of several large U.S. producers of plastic composite manifolds, including Solvay Automotive Inc. of Troy, Mich.; Montaplast of North America Inc. in Frankfort, Ky.; and Siemens Automotive LP in Auburn Hills, Mich.