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Futuris wins next-gen Tesla Model X seat contract

Take a seat: Futuris will supply seats for the battery-powered Tesla Model X as part of a major expansion into the US market (Model S production pictured).

Aussie car-parts maker to supply Tesla SUV seats from dedicated US factory

31 Jan 2014

AUSTRALIAN car parts maker Futuris has won a major contract to supply seats for the next-generation Tesla battery-powered soft-roader due on sale in Australia in 2015.

Futuris already supplies seats for California-based Tesla’s latest car, the five-door hatchback Model S, from a facility shared with Tesla’s Californian production line. It has also previously built the seats for Tesla’s first-generation electric vehicle, the Lotus Evora-based Roadster two-seat coupe.

However, as part of the new multimillion-dollar contract to supply seats for the Model X SUV, which enters production later this year, the Port Melbourne-based company said it would expand its foothold in the US.

Futuris chief financial officer Dexter Clarke told GoAuto the Tesla contract win would also help the company expand beyond its local manufacturing capacity, which will soon be hurt by the withdrawal of Ford and Holden’s Australian car-making bases.

“The ongoing success of Tesla along with Model X will see Futuris open a new, dedicated manufacturing facility in northern California,” Mr Clarke said.

“You may recall our existing production line is inside the Tesla factory, however, it now makes sense for us to establish our own facility.

“We believe this again shows that Australian design and engineering capability is second to none in the world and despite what happens to automotive manufacturing in Australia, needs to be supported and developed,” he said.

Mr Clarke said the Tesla contract was a key focus for Futuris “along with a major seat frame contract for a Ford global platform”.

“Both these programs are being engineered, for the main, out of our Port Melbourne facility where we have actually had to employ new engineering, CAD (computer-assisted design) and CAE (computer-assisted engineering) resources,” he said.

Futuris builds a number of parts for the locally made Ford Falcon and Territory, and Holden Commodore passenger car and commercial vehicle ranges, and the Holden Cruze, Toyota Camry and Toyota Aurion passenger car ranges, including seats, door trims, control systems such as brakes and steering.

It employs about 800 workers in Australia at sites adjacent to both Holden and Ford’s production lines, including 150 technical roles based at its Port Melbourne headquarters, and has overseas offices in China, South Africa, Thailand and the US.

The company generates enough business to earn about $400 million a year.

In its preliminary submission to last year’s Productivity Commission inquiry into automotive manufacturing, Futuris said its work with Australian car-makers had helped it expand internationally.

“Ford and GM-Holden in particular, have facilitated opportunities for Futuris to participate in regional sourcing activities with their multinational parents,” the submission said.

“Futuris has been successful in winning programs with both Ford and GM in both Australia and Thailand and from 2015, will also supply a Ford venture in China.

This has led to winning programs with other vehicle producers in overseas markets, including business with Tesla Motors (USA), Chery Automobile (China) and AutoAlliance (Thailand).”

Mid-way through last year, Futuris’s former owner, embattled agricultural giant Elders, sold the car-parts maker to US private equity firm Clearlake Capital Group for $69 million.

Elders wrote down the value of Futuris by $166.5 million last year shortly after Ford Australia’s announcement that it would stop making cars from 2016.

Elders revealed that Futuris’s first-half sales last financial year earned the components maker about $5 million before taxes.

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