The controller of Gestamp's South Charleston stamping plant said the factory is cold-stamping parts for Mercedes and BMW and will hot-stamp parts soon for Volkswagen, Honda, Ford and General Motors.
Paul Meisel gave an update on Gestamp's activities Tuesday at the South Charleston Economic Development Authority's monthly meeting at Little Creek Country Club.
"The work we do is called 'offload,' " he said. "Our sister plants were operating at over capacity due to volume increases so we absorbed from their excess."
Gestamp is based in Madrid, Spain. Meisel said the company has more than 75 locations, including nine in North America. He said Gestamp's annual sales total more than 5 billion euros ($6.4 billion). He estimated that North America accounts for about 20 percent of the company's revenues.
"We are high-tech blacksmiths," he said. "We take a piece of metal and beat it into different shapes - and we do it well." That's called cold stamping.
Meisel said the plant's cold stamping customers include Gestamp Alabama, which makes parts for Mercedes; Gestamp South Carolina, which makes parts for BMW; and Gestamp Chattanooga, which makes parts for Volkswagen.
Hot stamping involves heating metal until it glows and then forming it. Hot stamping will be the South Charleston plant's specialty, Meisel said.
"Our future hot stamping customers are Volkswagen, Honda and Ford. We're already in production on some VW parts. We began production about four weeks ago. They are parts for the Passat at Chattanooga, where they make about 180,000 cars a year."
The parts made in South Charleston include door pillars and a metal piece under the back seat.
South Charleston will use the hot stamping process to make pillars and a door beam for the Honda Odyssey minivan that will be assembled starting in June 2013 in Lincoln, Ala., Meisel said. South Charleston will begin making those parts in April or May.
Gestamp expects to begin making parts for an all-new Ford Transit truck next fall.
"This is bigger than the current Transit van," Meisel said. "It will be built in Kansas City, Kansas. We'll make 43 parts for that vehicle - pillars, roof beams, a doorsill, structural members. That vehicle is projected to start production in September.
"We've been recently awarded GM business for a vehicle to be built in Lordstown, Ohio," he said. "I don't have any details yet."
The South Charleston plant has gone from nine employees in June to 91 now.
"We're projecting 95 to 98 before Christmas," Meisel said. "We're looking at about 150 by mid-year next year and 200 by the end of next year. I think our legal commitment is 175 so we're ahead of that pace.
"The target is 400 at the end of five years. The plan to get there looks fairly clear to me. We deal with all of the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Typically you know where you'll be about a year and a half to two years out. I think it's a pretty positive story for the area and for us."
Meisel said the company already has invested $25 million in South Charleston. "We've actually exceeded that. It's probably closer to $30 million."
Gestamp has promised to eventually invest at least $100 million in the plant and hire at least 400 employees. In return, the company will receive state and local tax incentives that have been estimated to be worth between $55 million and $84.4 million.
During a question-and-answer period, Charleston Newspapers and Gazette President and Publisher Betty Chilton asked if the plant has encountered a qualified workforce.