Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik AG & Co. (SFT) is hoping to secure a contract to build DaimlerChrysler AG's PT Cruiser at its plant in Steyr, reports out of Austria say. Steyr currently is practicing disassembling and reassembling three PT Cruisers at its plant in Graz. Steyr reportedly could build right-hand-drive and diesel versions of the vehicle starting in 2001 for several markets. DC may announce its Austrian plans later this month.

The company already has said it is looking for European small-car capacity and DC's early forecasts suggest the PT Cruiser will be a hit in Europe, where monospace vehicles, such as the Renault Scenic, Opel Zafira and Peugeot Picasso continue to enjoy strong sales.

Steyr will develop and produce the 4-wheel-drive version of the next generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The company, which today produces the current 4WD E-Class 4Matic, will invest about $25 million in the project and could begin production of the new model in 2002 or 2003. The new Steyr/DC contract runs to 2010.

Production of the current E-Class 4Matic started in Graz in late 1996 with original plans calling for 8,000 units annually. About 36,000 units were built through 1999. Expected 2000 output is about 17,000 units.

Almost two-thirds of the Austrian-made E-Class 4Matic are exported to the U.S. annually. For the new model the company plans to produce some 20,000 units a year.

Additionally, sources at DC say Steyr could be involved in the development and possibly even production of the 4WD version of the new C-Class and S-Class. DC also may consider the production of the successor to the G-Class 4WD vehicle.

Separately, Steyr is engineering the Versatrak all-wheel-drive system for the upcoming Pontiac Aztek and Buick Rendezvous. Steyr Powertrain, a Steyr subsidiary, will produce the components at its plant in Lannach, Austria, and assemble them at a new plant currently under construction in Mexico. The General Motors Corp. contract calls for 130,000 4WD drive sets and complete rear axle modules annually.