Bob Lloyd does not have much time to think about the question, but he admits it is out there.
'It's possible down the road that we might want to sell to the Big 3,' says Lloyd, president and CEO of Bodine Aluminum Inc. in St. Louis. 'We've had visits from the Big 3. It's possible, but that would be way down the road. Right now, we're just too busy keeping up with Toyota.'
Of course, at the beginning of the 1990s, the idea of even selling to Toyota was far out, he adds. At that time, Bodine was a small, family-owned St. Louis aluminum-casting company, founded in 1912, that was not even in the auto business. Its biggest volume went into Caterpillar tractors.
Then came Toyota Motor Manu-facturing U.S.A. Inc. in George-town, Ky., 340 miles due east on Interstate 64.
Bodine was not for sale, and the Bodine family was shocked to discover the big Japanese carmaker even had an interest in the company. Toyota has since invested some $600 million in Bodine, launching a second plant and bumping employment from 250 in 1990 to about 650 by the end of next year.
As a wholly owned Toyota subsidiary, Bodine opened its second casting foundry in Troy, Mo., dedicated to supplying aluminum engine parts for the Camry, Avalon and Sienna engine plant in Georgetown. Later this year, the Bodine plant will complete an expansion to add the supply of castings for Corolla engines built in Buffalo, W.Va.
On top of that, Toyota recently decided to expand the Buffalo plant to build more V-6 engines in the United States. Bodine will expand to keep pace again.
Lloyd notes that as other carmakers slowly change from iron engines to aluminum ones, Bodine could see outside opportunity.
'We see more blocks and heads going to aluminum, and I'm sure the auto companies are going to be looking for suppliers to supply them,' he says.
As the relationship matures, Bodine is spreading its new ideas about management, employee training, quality assurance, inventories and even technical processes back to the original Bodine plant in St. Louis. In the end, Toyota's tutelage there has benefited Caterpillar, since that company remains the St. Louis foundry's No. 1 customer.