DETROIT – Mann+Hummel GmbH may be Europe’s top producer of automotive air cleaners (with 35% of the passenger-car market), but for years the supplier has been a bit player in the U.S. market.

Mann+Hummel supplies engine cover for Chrysler Crossfire.

Now, Mann+Hummel is emerging as a formidable competitor in North America in a range of automotive filtration products.

The German company boosted its North American original-equipment and aftermarket sales by 10% to $110 million in 2003, and the company’s $200 million sales target should be within sight by 2008, the supplier says. Its global sales in 2003 were $1.3 billion, up from $1.1 billion in 2002.

In 2003, Mann+Hummel lined up 16 new product programs for its North American operations, including eight air-cleaner systems, four intake manifolds, two de-gas reservoirs (surge tanks), one engine “beauty” cover and one heavy-duty diesel oil filter.

The supplier is building a new plant in Queretaro, Mexico, where production will begin in July of some of these products, including filter elements, air-cleaner housings, a plastic oil module and coolant reservoirs. The Mexican plant will help Mann+Hummel grow in both OEM and aftermarket sales.

“We will triple our sales in Mexico within three to four years,” Claude Mathieu, president and CEO-Mann+Hummel USA Inc., says at a recent press briefing here. “Air filtration is a core competency for us, and we will use Mexico to increase our North American penetration in air filters.”

Claude Mathieu, CEO-Mann+Hummel USA Inc., says supplier will triple sales in Mexico within four years.

Also in North America, Mann+Hummel’s Portage, MI, facility added production in 2003 for new intake manifolds for a North American auto maker’s 3.9L and 4.2L V-6 engines, and the supplier will launch an intake manifold for another North American OEM in 2004.

Mann+Hummel says it ranks second in sales of aluminum and plastic intake manifolds in North America, with 12% share of the market. That’s up from 5% North American share and a seventh-place ranking in 2001.

The supplier has 8,800 employees worldwide, including 530 at five locations in North America.

Mexico fits nicely with Mann+Hummel’s attempt to exploit sourcing opportunities in low-cost labor markets – a strategy many suppliers are pursuing aggressively in markets such as China.

“If we don’t, our competition will,” says Wilfried Lehr, managing director of Mann+Hummel’s Automotive Original Equipment Div.

Mann+Hummel’s product line also includes a new secondary air charger, which gives a boost of fresh air to a vehicle’s exhaust system, enhancing performance of the catalytic converter in a smaller, lighter package.

The supplier integrates its secondary air charger, which is driven by a turbine, into the air path of the engine.

tmurphy@primediabusiness.com