Faurecia Group may have only a toehold on the North American automotive seating market, but the French supplier has an ambitious strategy to grow its share in the region.

Faurecia now has just one seating program in North America, but it's a biggie: General Motors Corp.'s Epsilon architecture, which launched last year in the U.S. with the all-new Chevy Malibu.

The supplier opened a facility in Riverside, MO, a year ago to produce Malibu seats and ship them in just-in-time sequence to GM's Fairfax, KS, assembly plant.

In October, Faurecia dedicated its second JIT seat plant, in Auburn Hills, MI, to supply front and rear seats for the '05 Pontiac G6, which is produced two miles (3 km) away at GM's Lake Orion plant.

GM awarded Faurecia the $500 million Epsilon seating contract in 1999. Construction of the $14 million Auburn Hills plant began in March 2003. Faurecia took occupancy in October 2003 and began production Aug. 2.

GM broadcasts a bar-coded request for seats every 45-60 seconds. It takes Faurecia three to four hours to assemble, package and ship each set (including two front seats and the back-row seat) to the Lake Orion plant. Faurecia receives components from 31 sub-suppliers and produces three different trim levels in both fabric and leather.

Ten trucks ship the seats daily from the Faurecia plant, and the supplier expects to deliver 256,000 seat sets in the first year of production, after rampup is complete.

Currently, the plant is operating with one shift, but a second shift will be added in early 2005, boosting employment from 138 to 222. There is no discussion yet of a third shift or a second production line at the plant, says Kirk MacLennan, the Auburn Hills plant manager.

Like other U.S. seating plants owned by Lear Corp., Johnson Controls Inc. and Magna International Inc.'s Intier Automotive, the new Faurecia facilities are represented by the United Auto Workers union.

Starting pay at the plant is $11 per hour, and the average hourly wage is about $13, MacLennan says.

While the pay rates may seem modest by UAW standards, the union is upbeat about the Faurecia facility because it represents new membership. UAW Vice President Bob King, who heads the union's organizing department, was on hand for the recent plant dedication and calls the labor deal a win-win for workers and the company.

“This is a good contract for these employees,” says King.

The Auburn Hills and Missouri plants figure prominently in Faurecia's plan for dramatic growth in North America in the near future.

Faurecia expects its North American production sites for all components to grow from 14 to 22, and employee headcount in the region will climb from 5,000 currently to 8,000, says Chairman and CEO Pierre Levi.

Besides seats, Faurecia also produces exhaust systems, cockpits, front-end modules and door panels in North America. The supplier manufactures the exhaust system for Ford Motor Co.'s new Five Hundred sedan, the innovative “floating” center stack for the Volvo S40 sedan and the front-end module for BMW AG's 1-Series.

Faurecia is Europe's No.1 seat producer and is No.3 worldwide, behind JCI and Lear. Levi says the GM contract is of major importance to Faurecia.

“We all understand the significance of living up to the challenge of setting up our first seat plant in North America,” he says.

The Riverside plant launched smoothly, and the Malibu seats have been heralded by GM executives and independent surveys as comfortable and of high quality, Levi says.

“Bob Lutz (GM vice chairman-product development) says the Malibu seats are among GM's best,” Levi says.

Worldwide, Faurecia employs 60,000 people, has 160 facilities and posted 2003 sales of $12.3 billion. The publicly traded supplier (71% owned by PSA Peugeot Citroen) was established in 1997 with the merger of seat specialist Bertrand Faure and the Ecia Group.