A French plastics supplier and its U.S. partner want to dissolve their 18-month-old joint venture.
Plastic Omnium SA and Becker Group Inc. jointly operate a 109,000-square-foot injection-molding plant in Anderson, S.C.
Plastic Omnium, based in Paris, had opened the plant a year before forming the 50-50 venture with Becker Group of Sterling Heights, Mich., in November 1996.
The joint venture, known as P&B Automotive LLC, had purchased the plant, Plastic Omnium's first in North America. The venture also had a Troy, Mich., engineering office. Plastic Omnium continues to make fuel tanks separately at the facility.
Now, both companies say that they want a divorce. Plastic Omnium will buy Becker's 50 percent interest in P&B and continue solo in North America, said P&B Automotive President Phillipe Claye, who also runs Plastic Omnium's North American operations. The purchase for an unspecified price was to be completed by July, Claye said.
Plastic Omnium recorded about $80 million in North American sales last year, including the P&B venture, Claye said. Sales from the P&B venture alone were not disclosed, although sources believed the total to be at least $10 million to $15 million.
Originally, the P&B venture was expected to be a heavenly made match for both companies. Plastic Omnium had wanted to work with an experienced supplier to ease its pioneering move to North America. Meanwhile, Becker Group, known for its interior parts, wanted to enter the exterior market.
Yet those advantages seemed to sour over time. Plastic Omnium, a major European parts producer, found that it could aggressively find new exterior business in North America by itself, Claye said. New contracts with General Motors and Volkswagen de Mexico have eased its transition.
The French company opened a 30,000-square-foot plant in Puebla, Mexico, in September and plans to build another facility near a GM site in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, by 2002, Claye said. The company is also considering expanding further in the United States, he said.
'There are no hard feelings,' Claye said. 'We just recognized that our strategies are much too different, and it's best to go our own way.'
A top Becker Group official, who did not want his name used, confirmed that the split was over strategy differences. The Michigan supplier wanted to bank its future on interior parts - the company has made interiors for Chrysler Corp.'s Plymouth Prowler and other vehicles - and in such areas as design and engineering, he said.
'We weren't in agreement on strategic issues,' he said. The joint venture 'is our only exterior business, and it's not part of our overall strategy.'
For interior work, Becker Group is finding new alliances. In October, the company formed a joint venture in Brazil with molder Eldorado Industria Ltda. for plastic instrument panels, the Becker official said.
The company also plans to form a similar joint venture in Bangkok, Thailand, for interior parts.
Becker ranks 72 on the Automotive News list of the biggest original equipment suppliers to North America.
Plastic Omnium also plans to move ahead in exterior parts. The Anderson plant will supply GM with exterior trim and blow-molded fuel tanks for its new line of minivans and its Chevrolet Corvette. In Mexico, the company supplies fuel tanks and bumper fascias for VW's New Beetle, produced at a nearby plant.