DETROIT -- Karmann USA Inc. has won the jewel of convertible-top business in the United States: the deal to supply the next-generation Chrysler Sebring.
Industry sources put the value of the current convertible-top program at more than $14 million annually, based on 40,000 units.
The contract is a coup for Karmann, which is part of a vanguard of European suppliers challenging North American suppliers of convertible tops.
The deal also is a big loss for Dura Convertible Systems. Dura, a unit of Collins & Aikman Corp., has supplied convertible tops to Chrysler since the introduction of the Chrysler LeBaron convertible in 1982.
A spokesman for Karmann, of Plymouth, Mich., confirmed the contract but did not give a start date for production.
The replacements for the Sebring and Dodge Stratus will debut as 2007 models next year. It was not clear when the convertible versions would appear.
The Sebring was ranked as the top-selling convertible in the United States for the past three years, according to R.L. Polk & Co., a research firm in Southfield, Mich.
Chrysler produced 50,597 Sebring convertibles when the current model was introduced in 2001. Last year the automaker produced 39,388 Sebring convertibles at its Sterling Heights, Mich., plant. The Sebring convertible continues to be popular; 11,008 were built during the first quarter of this year.
Karmann is no stranger to the United States. It will supply retractable hardtops for the Pontiac G6 convertible scheduled to arrive next year.
Mark Stevens, Karmann USA's vice president of sales and marketing, says the company is completing work on a plant in Michigan that will handle the G6 project and two other programs he did not identify.
Another European supplier, Edscha AG's U.S. subsidiary, Edscha Roof Systems of Pontiac, Mich., makes convertible tops for the Chrysler PT Cruiser. And CTS Car Top Systems N.A. Inc., which is owned by Porsche AG of Stuttgart, Germany, supplies the soft top for the 2005 Chevrolet Corvette. Dura long had been the Corvette's ragtop supplier.
The European competition has put pressure on profit margins.
Dura enjoyed net profit margins of more than 30 percent in the 1990s on the tops it supplied the Corvette and Ford Mustang, says a former Dura official who had access to company financial data.
A Dura spokesman did not return several telephone calls.
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