FRANKFURT - Groupe Michelin has entered into two cooperative agreements to take it into the suspension system business and secure global supply possibilities for noise, vibration and harshness damping components.
The partnerships, with France's Groupe Vallourec and Germany's Woco Industrietechnik GmbH, are expected to allow the French tire maker to expand a relatively small business unit into a possible worldwide supplier of noise, vibration and harshness damping parts and car axles, according to Philippe Verneuil, president of Michelin's wheels and suspension systems strategic business unit.
So far, the companies don't plan to create joint ventures or exchange ownership stakes. Instead, they will work together on a project-by-project basis, Verneuil said.
Each partner hopes the cooperation will lead to new business with automotive makers, so each will benefit from added sales, said Gerard Terneyre, president of Vallourec. The company is a metal fabricator that makes the individual parts of car suspensions and other automotive systems.
Together, Michelin and Vallourec propose replacing the axle, springs, torsion bars and other parts of a standard front-wheel-drive car's rear suspension with a hollow tube axle that uses natural rubber bushings to take up the torsion forces and act as springs. The standard steel version would be 30 percent lighter, while a proposed aluminum version would be 50 percent lighter, Verneuil said.
Vallourec and Michelin started working together two years ago. They expect to gain some fitments for some 2002 or 2003 model year cars, Verneuil said.
Michelin's cooperation with Woco is less evolved, but executives for both firms are excited about the prospects for gaining more contracts that their combined expertise should generate. The two companies started working together seriously in January.
The cooperative project, involving a noise problem with an existing European car model, already has proposed changes in design that would reduce the noise level by two to three decibels without changing any handling characteristics, said Bernhard Wolf, a Woco executive.
In the Michelin-Woco partnership, Woco brings worldwide manufacturing capability. Michelin provides worldwide original equipment contacts and extensive experience in road-tire vibration analysis.