DETROIT - The increased presence of DaimlerChrysler, Renault and Volkswagen in the United States is compelling more European suppliers to market themselves in North America.
Last week at the SAE 2000 World Congress, 80 French companies teamed on a mock concept car in an effort to gain attention here. It was not so much a car as it was a 'vehicle' for the group's ambitions to sell in America.
The display represented the first time that any of the 80 manufacturers had ever marketed in the United States, said Bruno Masurel, head of strategic marketing for industry development with the Lyon Chamber of Commerce in Lyon, France. What's more, behind the French concept-car campaign is a new online database containing 150 more French automotive companies that also are reaching out to the U.S. market for the first time.
The suppliers arranged their components in a complex module of chassis, axle, engine, seating, body, interior and electronic systems to demonstrate the diversity of automotive suppliers in the Rhone-Alps region around Lyon. The region of southeastern France has thrived as a supplier base, though most of France's vehicle production occurs in the upper half of the country. Masurel said the area is home to 900 automotive companies, representing about $10.6 billion in annual sales. That would indicate the average local company has less than $12 million in sales.
'We believe there is a growing opportunity for these companies here in the States,' Masurel explained. 'We have two goals in being here - one, to make the U.S. market aware of their products and services; and two, to show the U.S. companies that this supplier base exists in that region to support its European needs.'
Masurel said the group believes there probably are U.S. firms looking for strategic tie-ups with suppliers in the region as General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler group attempt to further penetrate the European market.
But European automakers also are becoming more active in North America.
Volkswagen AG, long depressed in this market, has rebounded over the past two years. Last year, the German automaker said it is spending $1 billion to expand its sprawling vehicle factory in Puebla, Mexico.
Renault SA last year bought control of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., which has given the French automaker a role in North America for the first time since the 1980s. Renault announced late last year that it will jointly produce vehicles at Nissan's auto plants in Mexico for that market and others. As part of the plan, Renault will put an existing French platform into production in Mexico.