American Specialty Cars is looking to emulate the success of European styling and engineering houses such as Pininfarina, Karmann, Valmet and Bertone by expanding into Europe and China, writes Chris Wright.

Formerly known as the American Sunroof Company, ASC has kept its initials but re-invented itself over the past two years as a specialist body engineering company for low volume production vehicles.

It sees China as real opportunity and has already been contracted by one North American manufacturer to design a line of vehicles specifically for the Chinese market.

Executive vice president and chief marketing officer Jeff Steiner said: "China  is wide open and we also have an opportunity to work with established Chinese businesses on design and engineering for convertible models both for the domestic market and for export."

At Detroit Auto Show ASC showcased five concept vehicles including a convertible version of the Chrysler 300 Hemi C, the first four door-open top since the Lincoln Continental of 1967.

ASC has invested in its own design and engineering facilities in North America to build the Chrysler believes could retail for between $45,000 and $50,000.

Steiner said: "We have to realistic about what we can do and what the market requirements are. Anyone can do a concept but we want to make sure that what we do has production feasibility."

ASC took the current 300 Hemi C production body and conducted a full engineering exercise to ensure that the concept had the necessary stiffness and was able to meet all the safety standards of the production car.

It has almost entirely come out of the sunroof business apart from its joint venture with Yachio at Columbus, Ohio while it has also retained its 20-year association with Toyota with the roof system on the Solara and with Mitsubishi on the Eclipse.

Steiner said: "From the Chrysler concept you could look at almost any large rear-wheel-drive platform such as the Cadillac CTS or STS or the Ford 500 platform.

"Chrysler has seen the car and is showing a lot of interest in it. This is an emotional business and to be able to show our clients a fully finished vehicle rather than simply running ideas past them is how we see should do business in the future. There is nothing better than actually seeing the metal."

"We accept that this costs a lot of money and we have to ramp up our skill sets as a supplier at the consumer level as well. Before we go ahead with an idea we have to look to see if there is a market for a particular vehicle and whether the retail price is right - we have to understand the market as well as the vehicle manufacturers.

"With the Chrysler we believe there is a market for such a car, there's not been a four-door convertible in the United States for almost 40 years and there is an ageing baby boomer population which has the wealth to acquire such a car."

Europe is another hunting ground for growth although Steiner accepts the competition there is greater and the market more fragmented.

ASC in its previous existence used to have operations in Germany for Porsche and retains a small office in Ingolstadt to liaise with manufacturers in the country.

Growth in Europe would probably be through a mixture of organic growth, acquisitions or joint ventures.

ASC does not believe it is necessary to have its own production facilities. Steiner said: "As with North America we look at where there is spare production capacity and engineer low volume, specialist vehicles that can be put onto existing production lines. We are talking about volumes of no more than 30,000 vehicles a year.

"Where as in North America we have no direct competition, there are obviously a number of companies in Europe and the market is a lot more competitive.

"It is possible that we could work with one of those businesses to help our access to Europe as well as theirs to the market in North America where they currently have no presence."