The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

Auto industry reboots in county

Vision for area: A hub for hybrid technology

By April Abernathy
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The declining state of the automotive industry in Madison County began to see some sign of light at the end of the dark tunnel in 2010 with growth in new technology by local auto manufacturers.

Rocked by bankruptcy and stress, the automotive industry had nowhere to go but up.

“2009 was amongst one of the worst years in memory for the auto industry,” said Remy International CEO John Weber. “Like many auto suppliers, we were under tremendous stress, but we pulled through.”

The industry was set for a rebound in 2010, improving profitability and making significant adjustments in new products and new people.

“I feel good about the state of the industry,” Weber said.

Michael Brylawski, Bright Automotive, Inc, said that after hitting rock bottom through 2008 and 2009, the industry was rebooting and exploring new technology, concentrating on creating an independence from oil.

“The U.S. uses 25 percent of the world’s oil. It only has 2 percent of a proven reserve, importing 60 percent of the oil used,” Brylawski said. “We are at a starting point of improving technology and being independent of oil.”

The independence from oil lies in Bright eSolution’s current projects in vehicle electrification with the creation of pure electric vehicles for the Department of Defense and the United States Postal Service.

One vehicle, the IDEA, was recently showcased in Washington, D.C., as an eco-conscious, hybrid fleet vehicle.

“The IDEA is our vehicle. We took a Volkswagon van and used our controls,” Brylawski said.

The move to oil independent cars was good for Central Indiana, including Madison County, because of the region’s capabilities for technology and the assets of the people there. But is the future really Bright?

“I have cautious optimism (about the future),” Brylawski said. “The skill is here but the industry hit a low and is starting to grow out.”

Weber would agree with the warning of caution.

“The negative — there are storm clouds on the horizon with the breathtaking levels of commodity pricing,” he said. “Copper is triple what is was. There is a lot of cost pressure on material.”

Remy knows the need to be smarter and more creative by taking every opportunity to take the cost of the business down.

Expansions to the business and people created revenue, aiding in driving cost sdown.

“We invested money in new test stands and especially in the hybrid market,” Weber said.

Remy and Bright have both worked hard to secure contracts, grants and low interest loans to help drive costs down while maintaining top performance of the products each company manufactures.

Remy was recently awarded a $60.2 million federal grant for the commercialization of hybrid technology. The grant will help accelerate presence and capability in the hybrid market.

“We will be looking to establish a major production facility,” Weber said. “We have not decided where it will be. As we consider different locations, we must take into consideration transportation, labor environment, real estate costs and availability of talent.”

Even with storm clouds on the horizon, the automotive future in Madison County appeared to be headed toward sunny skies.

“I am very positive for 2011,” Weber said.

Contact April Abernathy, 640-4861, april.abernathy@heraldbulletin.com.