State and local officials joined executives from Behr America today to celebrate the grand opening of the company's new, multi-million-dollar manufacturing and product development center near Lansing, MI.

The 63,000-square-foot manufacturing plant will house Behr America's operations for the development, testing and manufacture of engine cooling components, including the first electronically controlled clutch fans produced in North America, according to Hans Lange, president of Behr America.

The company recently announced that it had acquired an 8.5-acre site in Troy, MI, for a new corporate headquarters and technical center. The Webberville and Troy facilities are part of a $120-million investment planned by the Behr Group to increase Behr's presence in North America. The Behr Group is Europe's leading supplier of automotive air conditioning and engine cooling systems.

Lange and Michigan's Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus were among the officials participating in the Webberville grand opening ceremonies. Others in attendance included Auburn Perkins, chairman of the Webberville Downtown Development Authority; Bruce Carr, president of the Webberville Village Council; John Pierson, economic development coordinator for the Ingham County Economic Development Corporation, and Neil West, Leroy Township supervisor.

"The new plant will produce the first electronically actuated engine- cooling fan clutches manufactured in North America," said Lange, who also is a member of the Behr Group's board of management. "The facility eventually will employ more than 125 people and also will build conventional fan clutches."

"I am sure that when Mr. Behr founded our company in 1905 in Stuttgart, he didn't anticipate that we would have such a major presence in Michigan," Lange added. "What he did intend, however, was to provide innovative engine cooling products to his customers. The line of products introduced here in Webberville is one of the examples of Behr's continued dedication to innovative engine cooling."

Lt. Governor Posthumus applauded Behr for its decision to locate major new facilities in Michigan.

"Behr's new Webberville facility, as well as the corporate headquarters and technical center planned in Troy, will create more than 225 new jobs at Behr and hundreds of additional jobs at other Michigan-based companies that are suppliers to Behr and its employees," Posthumus said. "These new facilities represent important new investments in Michigan's rapidly expanding high-tech economy."

Behr's Webberville plant has 50,000-square-feet of manufacturing space and 13,000-square-feet of office space. Additional construction planned over the next several years will bring the total cost of the project to more than $11 million.

Construction in Webberville began in July of 1999. Two Michigan firms helped develop the project. Wieland-Davco Corporation of Lansing, MI, is the program's general contractor. Hobbs & Black and Associates, based in Ann Arbor, served as the architect.

The initial capacity at Webberville is 625,000 clutch assemblies annually. Ultimately, the plant will have the capacity to make 2.5 million assemblies per year. The plant is designed for high-volume, just-in-time delivery to Behr customers.

Mark Zehr, manufacturing manager for Behr America, said one of the new products that will be built at the plant is a viscous fan clutch assembly that will regulate the speed of engine cooling fans.

"The new, electronically controlled clutch usually is positioned between a vehicle's engine and cooling module and essentially regulates the basic operation of the fan," Zehr said. "We currently make this product in Germany, but it will be new for Behr in North America."

The Webberville plant currently has 25 employees -- a technical staff that recently moved from Behr America's Walled Lake facility. As production ramps up, the facility is expected to employ 35-40 people by the end of the year and eventually more than 125.

Behr America has facilities in Charleston, S.C.; Canton, S.D.; Walled Lake, MI; and Fort Worth, TX, in addition to its new Webberville plant. The company employs approximately 1,100 people. Work on Behr's new Troy corporate headquarters and technical center is scheduled to begin this summer with completion in the late spring of 2001.

Behr America is part of the Behr Group, a leading global supplier of climate control and engine cooling systems for automotive, commercial and off- highway vehicle markets. The Behr Group is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, and has more than 12,500 employees with facilities in eight countries.