A Chinese consortium’s recent purchase of Valiant Machine and Tool typifies a trend that is not only reshaping Canada’s auto supply chain, but laying the groundwork for a new player in the North American car industry, say experts.
“I believe Chinese consolidation in the auto sector is real,” said Jonathan Azzopardi, president of Tecumseh-based Laval International and chairman of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers.
“It can be good, or it can be bad, depending on the intentions of the buyer,” said Azzopardi.
“If the intention is to expand their footprint in Canada and North America, it’s a good thing. It brings new resources and a new player to the industry.”
Valiant Tool is among at least five Ontario parts suppliers either Canadian owned or assets of U.S. companies purchased by Chinese interests since 2013, said Brendan Sweeney, researcher at McMaster University’s Automotive Policy Research Centre.
“At some point over the next two decades, we are going to see a Chinese assembly plant in North America,” said Sweeney.
“The Valiant purchase reflects a slow and steady trend over the past three or four years of large Chinese companies, conglomerates and industrial concerns coming in and acquiring small to medium parts suppliers.”
The other acquisitions include JCI Automotive, Meridian Lightweight Technologies, Wescast Industries and Henniges Automotive, according to a study authored by Sweeney.
“I think they are buying medium-sized companies that are good at what they do,” he said.
Brantford-based Wescast specializes in the production of cast iron exhaust manifolds. “They’re probably the world leader in this technology,” said Sweeney. “It may not be a sexy technology, but try driving a car without an exhaust manifold.”
Strathroy-based Meridian bills itself as a leader in the design, engineering and manufacturer of innovative magnesium and aluminum die casting for the auto industry.
With 27 facilities in 15 countries, Valiant provides automated production systems and specialized tooling serving the auto, aerospace and heavy industry sectors. Details of the Valiant purchase, including the identity of the Chinese consortium, have yet to be released.
But the companies which have recently come under Chinese ownership have fared well, expanding operations and adding jobs, Sweeney said. The number of Ontario employees affected by the Chinese acquisitions exceeds 4,000.
“They’re not buying these companies to shut them down; this isn’t buying a pulp mill and closing it to control supply. They’re buying them to run them.”
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, predicted there would be more Chinese purchases of Ontario and U.S. parts suppliers in the near future.
Last year, “we received a noticeable increase in the number of inquiries connecting suppliers with a foreign company. And it almost always involved Chinese money,” said Volpe.
While there is activity all over North America, “I do see a concentration of Chinese interest in the Great Lakes Region, and that bodes well for Canada.”
The merger and acquisition of parts and tooling is the “first, logical step” toward establishing an assembly plant in North America, said Volpe.
“We’d love to land a Chinese assembly plant here, but if it landed in Michigan, we’d benefit on the parts side.”