DETROIT – In a bit of welcome news for the beleaguered Detroit area, German auto supplier Behr America announces at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress here plans to nearly double the size of its North American headquarters in the Detroit suburb of Troy, MI.

CEO Frank Mueller says the Michigan-based headquarters and technical staff has grown from less than 100 employees in 2002 to nearly 550 today.

“We expect even further growth to around 600 people within the next several years,” he says.

The company is a subsidiary of Behr GmbH & Co. KG, based in Stuttgart, and specializes in automotive air-conditioning and engine cooling systems. Its customers include all major light-vehicle manufacturers and heavy-truck producers.

The parent company had 2005 sales of $3.8 billion and employs about 18,000 worldwide.

The headquarters in Troy currently includes a technical center and a $15 million climactic wind tunnel for testing vehicle air conditioning and cooling systems.

Expected to open in early 2007, the $8.5 million, 3-story expansion will be built on a recently purchased site adjoining Behr America’s current headquarters campus. It will provide space for almost 270 employees now working in leased buildings scattered around the Troy area.

The company also announced plans to add new business at its renovated Dayton Thermal Products plant in Ohio and to build a new production facility in Mexico.

In Ohio, Dayton Thermal Products is adding production capacity for rear air-conditioning systems for several General Motors Corp. vehicles, the first GM business for the plant.

Behr also says it soon will break ground for a new production facility in northeast Mexico to manufacture engine-cooling modules and components. It currently is deciding between two sites.

dwinter@wardsauto.com