A top executive at Magna International Inc. says his company remains interested in building a plant for niche vehicle assembly in North America, but that the program won't move forward without a sizeable contract with an automaker.

As the president of Magna's SteyrSymatec North America subsidiary, D. Craig Winn is attempting to integrate and maximize the formidable modular capabilities of Canada's top automotive parts supplier. Part of his mission is to recreate in North America the SteyrDaimlerPuch plant in Graz, Austria, which Magna acquired in 1998.

In Graz, Steyr is a contract assembler of Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport/utility vehicles, and Mercedes E-Class 4Matic and G-wagon.

Magna does not want to design or build its own vehicles. It wants to be a contract assembler of low-volume (under 20,000 units a year) niche versions of vehicles already in production.