DETROIT - Magna International Inc. says if the right contract comes along, it could be building a complete vehicle for North American automakers in less than three years.
'If you came with your concept studies, we could do it within 32 months, maybe 36 months,' said Siegfried Wolf, CEO of Magna Steyr, the vehicle development group of Magna, which has headquarters in Aurora, Ontario.
Wolf, speaking at the SAE World Congress last week, said Magna is waiting for a profitable contract before undertaking an effort similar to the convertible it is building for Saab in Graz, Austria. Magna Steyr plans to assemble the vehicle in 2002.
Such a project would bring a higher level of niche manufacturing to North America.
Today, niche manufacturers such as Panoz Motorsports Inc. of Atlanta and Saleen Inc. of Irvine, Calif., produce small runs of expensive cars. Magna has had success with niche vehicles in Europe, where it assembles some Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz products.
Magna on Monday, March 5, introduced its newly separate Magna Steyr, its CEO and his management team near the site of the 2001 SAE World Congress at Cobo Center.
In February, Magna shook up its management. It has undertaken a sweeping reorganization that will involve the spinoff of two chunks of the giant auto parts company. Magna plans to spin off its Magna Interior unit and its vehicle assembly, powertrain and hydroforming operations as Magna Steyr, although the parent company will retain a majority stake in both companies.
Magna will become a holding company with five major divisions, four of which will be publicly owned. Both Magna Interiors and Magna Steyr will be sold as an initial public offering.
Magna Steyr will assemble complete vehicles, develop four-wheel drive and other powertrain systems. It also will manage hydroforming operations, which build frames and other underbody parts.
With half of Magna Steyr's $2.6 billion in sales coming from North America, the company is positioned for big initiatives. Most of its North American manufacturing capacity involves parts and modules.
Magna Steyr has no vehicle production capacity in North America, but Wolf said that would not be a problem because of excess capacity industrywide.
Wolf cited the 2002 Ford Thunderbird as the 'type of business we are looking for.' Magna Steyr has received automaker inquiries about building niche vehicles in North America, but nothing that promises profitability.
Wolf was quick to say that Magna Steyr will not compete with its automaker customers.
'We can only be as successful as our customers,' he said. At its Graz plants, Magna Steyr builds left-hand-drive Jeep Grand Cherokees and right-hand-drive Mercedes-Benz M-class sport-utilities.
At two other assembly lines, it builds the Mercedes Gelandewagen and an all-wheel-drive version of the Mercedes E class.
All four are niche vehicles built in Europe for DaimlerChrysler AG. Said Wolf, 'The market needs a company like Magna Steyr.'