Behr America Inc. is basing its future on a neglected Dayton Thermal Products plant that it bought last year from DaimlerChrysler AG.
The German engine cooling and air conditioning systems supplier acquired the plant in May 2002 for an undisclosed sum. Since then, Behr has been busy making improvements at the 78-year-old factory.
The 1 million-square-foot plant in Dayton, Ohio, and the business that came with it tripled Behr America's size.
The supplier reported sales of $230 million in 2001 with 1,000 employees. Last year, it posted $684 million in North American sales with 3,000 employees.
But growth has had its challenges. When it took over the plant, Behr inherited DaimlerChrysler's IUE-CWA contracts there. Behr now has to pay higher wages than competitors that don't have unionized plants. The Dayton employees also need training.
The plant continues to produce engine cooling and air conditioning modules for DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler and Dodge Neon, Chry-sler PT Cruiser, Jeep Grand Chero-kee and Dodge Ram. But new customers are on the way.
Behr America, in Troy, Mich., is part of privately held Behr GmbH & Co. in Stuttgart, Germany.
To handle the transition, Behr America set up a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler that began May 1, 2002, and runs through May 1, 2004. DaimlerChrysler retains a minority interest in the Dayton plant during that period.
"We hope we'll be three-quarters of the way toward making the plant competitive by the end of the joint venture," says Hans-Joachim Lange, president of Behr America.
The supplier plans to invest $100 million by May 2005 to update the plant and already has spent more than half that.