Reports out of Austria say Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik AG & Co. (SFT) is hoping to secure a contract to build the DaimlerChrysler AG PT Cruiser. Steyr currently is 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 that it is looking for European small-car capacity and its early forecasts say the PT Cruiser will be a hit in Europe, where monospace vehicles such as the Renault Scenic, Opel Zafira and Peugeot Picasso continue to see growing sales.

Steyr also will develop and produce the all-wheel drive (AWD) version of the next-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The company, which today produces the current AWD E-Class 4Matic, will invest $25 million in the project. Production of the new model could start in 2002 or 2003. The new Steyr/DC contract runs until the year 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 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. For the new model, Steyr plans to produce some 20,000 units annually.

Additionally, sources at DaimlerChrysler AG say Steyr could be involved in the development and possibly even production of the 4-wheel-drive version of the new C-Class and S-Class. DaimlerChrysler also may consider the production of the successor to the G-Class 4-wheel-drive 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 4-wheel-drive sets and complete rear axle modules annually.