Johnson Controls reportedly expects its sales in China to reach $US1.2 billion in 2004 as it bolsters manufacturing operations there.

Reuters said the company made the projection in a statement released in conjunction with a visit by US Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans and US Secretary of Labour Elaine Chao to a Johnson Controls plant in Beijing – it has not previously disclosed sales in China, a company spokesman reportedly said later.

The report said the plant, a venture with Beijing Automotive Industry Group and Shanghai Jiehua, makes seats for Hyundai Motor, Mitsubishi Motors and DaimlerChrysler Jeep vehicles assembled in China – it will build 160,000 seat systems in 2004, up 140% from the year before.

The Milwaukee-based maker of automotive interiors maker also reportedly said it plans to invest $8 million to expand a seat trim plant near Shanghai – the plant in the Nanhui area will make fabric and leather vehicle seat covers for export to Japan, where they will be used on seats made by Johnson Controls in Japan for integration into Nissan vehicles.

Reuters said the Nanhui plant is owned by Shanghai Yanfeng Johnson Controls Seating Co. Ltd., a joint venture established in 1997 between Johnson Controls and Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Trim Systems Co. Ltd., which operates 10 plants in China.

The report added that Johnson Controls entered China eight years ago with the launch of a joint-venture plant in Beijing and has 12 sites in China, including nine manufacturing plants.