Open the door to any vehicle, and it won't be difficult to find something that requires an incredible amount of manual labor to assemble.

It'll be in your hand.

A car door is an enormously complex system that arguably takes as much punishment as any moving part on a vehicle, and it has to look good doing it. It could open and close 50,000 times or more over a vehicle's life cycle, and the attached componentry is as diverse as it gets — latches, handles, motors, locks, wiring, speakers, trim, switches, regulators, windows.

Automakers realized that there are great efficiency gains in handing off door assembly work to suppliers. Hence, the inevitable arrival of the so-called “door module.”

Suppliers say they can engineer and assemble door systems more efficiently. Delphi Automotive Systems says its modular door requires 70% fewer fasteners and components at the vehicle assembly plant. Lear Corp., ArvinMeritor Inc. and Sommer Allibert offer similar door systems.

But unlike these others, Brose Technik fur Automobile has devoted almost its entire growth strategy to doors. This privately held, family company based in Coburg, Germany, has only one other product: seat adjusters.

Brose (pronounced BROS-uh) was founded in 1928, and window regulators were its first automotive product. Since then, it has produced 500 million regulators, which use a motor or manual crank to lift or lower the window. Brose has 20% of the worldwide market for window regulators.

Door systems make up the fastest-growing component of Brose's sales, currently pegged worldwide at $1.3 billion. That's more than triple Brose's $350 million in 1990.

The door systems business barely existed five years ago, but that's when the company started winning high-volume contracts for door modules. In 2000, the company produced 6 million of them, giving Brose 50% of the worldwide market, according to Jan Kowal, president of Brose North America Inc. of Auburn Hills, MI. In Germany, Brose claims 75% of the door module market.

Recently, Brose won its highest-volume door module contract yet — for a global passenger car platform produced by a U.S.-based automaker. Mr. Kowal could not say when the vehicle launches, but his company is gearing up.

“This will result in several new plants in various parts of the world,” Mr. Kowal says, adding that the company will produce door modules for two more new customers in the next few years. “For Brose, it's strategically extremely important.” One of the new plants will be in the U.S.

The only product Brose actually makes for a door module is the window regulator. Brose also designs the motor and electronic controls, which are manufactured by another company.

The company has five door module plants — two in Germany and one each in China, South Africa and Mexico. Its Mexican plant in Puebla supplies 1 million door modules to Volkswagen AG's nearby plant for the Jetta.

In July, the company launched anti-pinch windows for the 2001 Cadillac Seville. The product is standard equipment because of the “one-touch up” window function.

If the system detects an object preventing the window from closing, it automatically reverses direction. The system allows the window to apply up to 22 lbs. of force (100 Newtons) before being activated. That's the equivalent of squeezing a tomato without breaking it open.

Listen to Tom Murphy and other Ward's editors Monday and Thursday on WJR 760 AM radio in Detroit.

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Around the Industry

Mazda Motor Corp. picks Lear Corp. to supply the complete interior for a future global sports vehicle to be built in Hiroshima, Japan. As a system integrator, Lear will manage six suppliers during design and production. It marks Lear's first total interior in Japan, with annual volume estimated at 65,000 vehicles.

Visteon spends $100 million to prepare its Monroe, MI, Chassis Systems plant to produce halfshaft and driveshaft systems for new-model vehicles, by 2002. Visteon also hopes to add catalytic converter business to the facility. The plant employs 2,200 people.