DETROIT - Aluminum supplier Alcan Automotive will open its first U.S. manufacturing plant in the fourth quarter.
The 52,000-square-foot plant in Novi, Mich., also will be the new North American headquarters of the automotive unit for Alcan Inc., of Neuhausen, Switzerland. Since 1994, the automotive unit's North American headquarters has been in Farmington Hills, Mich. Novi and Farmington Hills are Detroit suburbs.
The plant will have the capacity to produce more than 1 million aluminum bumpers annually for North American customers starting early next year.
"Now with the merged company, we have everything to support North America," says Kurt Wolfensberger, president of Alcan Inc., referring to the company's merger in October 2000 with Alusuisse Group Ltd. "With the first bumper plant in Novi, I'm sure this is only the first steppingstone of a great future for Alcan in this field."
With an initial $4 million investment in Novi, Alcan is poised for growth in North America. Alcan Automotive posted global sales of $1 billion last year.
The company is taking the lessons learned from supplying aluminum body components for the 2004 Jaguar XJ sedan and will establish a
North American structural products group.
The XJ program is a high point in the 10-year relationship between Alcan and Ford Motor Co. that has focused on boosting aluminum use in structural applications. The companies worked together on an Aluminum Intensive Vehicle program, which produced a fleet of 50 Ford Taurus sedans with bodies made of aluminum for durability testing. The rivet bonding joining technology developed in that program is used on the Jaguar XJ.
"As long as it is profitable here, there are no limitations in investing," says Hugo Hagen, Alcan Automotive's vice president and general manager of structures and design.
The 15 employees in Farmington Hills will transfer to the Novi site in the fourth quarter. Forty-five hourly and salaried jobs will be created there initially.
Alcan plans to set up a nonunion shop, Hagen says, though "that might change in due course."
The plant has four customers lined up. Projects for two European automakers will begin next year, and work for two North American automakers will begin in 2005. Wolfensberger declined to disclose which companies.
Alcan Automotive's customers in Europe include Audi, BMW, Rover, Opel, DaimlerChrysler and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen.