ASC, Inc. History

Address:
One Sunroof Center
Southgate, Michigan 48195
U.S.A.

Telephone: (734) 285-4911
Fax: (734) 246-0501

Website:
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Questor Management Co. LLC
Incorporated: 1965 as American Sunroof Company
Employees: 1,000
Sales: $406 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 336399 All Other Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing; 336360 Motor Vehicle Seating and Interior Trim Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

With a very proud tradition spanning decades as a worldwide, value driven innovator, ASC, Incorporated is proud to provide the automotive industry with Specialty Customization and innovative specialty systems, state-of-the-art open air systems. Internationally recognized for its solid commitment to product quality and excellence, ASC continues to build on its reputation as a world leader in automotive enhancement technology.

Key Dates:

1965:
Heinz Prechter comes to Los Angeles from Germany and starts an auto sunroof company.
1967:
Prechter moves to Detroit and begins installing sunroofs for Ford.

1970s:Sunroof kits and simulated convertible tops are introduced by the rapidly growing firm.
1982:
The firm is renamed ASC, Inc.
1987:
The company buys truck trim manufacturer Aeromotive Systems Co.
1988:
Two specialty vehicle firms and a German coachbuilder are acquired.
1995:
GENASYS joint sunroof venture is formed with General Motors.
1997:
Prechter Holdings becomes the parent of ASC; two new joint ventures are formed.
1999:
JPE, Inc. is bought with Kojaian Holdings and renamed ASC Exterior Technologies.
2001:
Founder Heinz Prechter dies; a joint sunroof venture is formed with Inalfa Industries.
2002:
ASC is sold to Questor Management Co. LLC.

Company History:

ASC, Inc. is a designer and manufacturer of specialty products for the auto industry. The firm is a top producer of sunroofs and also makes convertible tops, interior trim for trucks, and prototype and concept cars. Other activities include installation of entertainment systems and vehicle enhancement packages. ASC works for many of the major auto makers in the United States and abroad, and also makes products for the aftermarket. Following the sudden death of company founder Heinz Prechter in 2001, the firm was sold to Questor Management Co. LLC of Southfield, Michigan.

Early Years

ASC was founded in Los Angeles in 1965 as the American Sunroof Company by Heinz Prechter, a 21-year-old West German immigrant. Prechter, who had been raised in a village in Bavaria and learned mechanical skills in his uncle's car repair shop, had driven a cab until he saved enough money to come to America. He started his small firm in a two-car garage rented from famed custom car builder George Barris. While the idea of cutting a hole in the roof of a brand-new car and replacing it with a window was not appealing to everyone, Prechter found enough interested parties to give him a steady business. Though sunroofs were already popular in Europe, he was one of the first to put them in American cars. When word of his company spread, he began traveling the United States to do conversions for customers around the country.

Prechter's reputation for quality work eventually came to the attention of the Ford Motor Co., which asked him to come to Detroit to install sunroofs in custom Lincoln cars that were being built for the likes of President Lyndon Johnson. He used a former car wash to perform these conversions at first, with Ford shipping vehicles to Prechter for the installation process. After a few months, he was asked to add sunroofs to some models of the 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7, making it the first U.S. car to offer a sunroof as a factory option.

Prechter's firm began growing rapidly. During the 1970s, the company started producing kits for factory installation of sunroofs by the auto industry, developed the first glass panel sunroof, and created the first simulated convertible top. By 1978, American Sunroof had managed more than 40 projects, modified over 1.6 million vehicles, and provided more than 300,000 sunroof kits for factory installation.

Drop in U.S. Auto Sales Has Devastating Impact: 1979

A sharp decline in domestic auto sales that followed the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 wreaked havoc with American Sunroof, and Prechter was forced to cut his workforce from 2,300 to 500 to keep from going under. He subsequently began to turn an eye toward international sales and also sought out other areas to invest in, including real estate, newspaper publishing, and a savings and loan bank.

In 1982, the company revised its corporate structure and took the shortened name of ASC, Incorporated. During the year, the firm began producing the Buick Riviera convertible as part of a resurgence of interest in the open body style, which had earlier been discontinued industry-wide due to dwindling sales.

In 1986, ASC began to supply convertible tops for the sporty Chevrolet Corvette, and the following year the company bought a leading supplier of interior trim for heavy trucks, Aeromotive Systems Co. The firm was also starting to make custom and limited-production vehicles, and in 1987 built the Buick GNX, the world's fastest car from 0 to 60 miles per hour.

The year 1988 saw ASC begin working with the German carmaker Porsche to build model 944 convertible Cabrios at a newly built plant in Heilbron, West Germany. ASC now expected to perform 3,500 to 4,000 conversions per year. The company also bought a small German coachmaking firm, Karrosseriewerke Weinsberg GmbH, which was renamed ASC/Weinsberg. Other acquisitions during 1988 included Pioneer Engineering and Manufacturing Co. and sister company Troy Design Group, auto design and engineering firms which expanded ASC's specialty vehicle manufacturing capabilities significantly. Because the company had labor costs as much as 20 percent below those of the American Big 3 automakers, it was able to offer a viable alternative for production of low-volume specialty vehicles.

In 1989, ASC began working with Dodge to build the first production convertible pickup truck, the Dakota. The company was also given the green light by Seat, a Spanish automaker owned by Volkswagen, to build a convertible version of its Ibiza model. In 1990, ASC announced it would partner with Modern Engineering of Warren, Michigan, to design and build specialty vehicles.

During these years, CEO Heinz Prechter continued to explore other business ventures, many of which were based in the so-called Downriver area south of Detroit, a heavily industrial, blue-collar community. He purchased the Wyandotte News-Herald and Mellus newspapers, which were later renamed Heritage Newspapers, acquired the Ramada Inn in Southgate (next to ASC's headquarters), and assisted in the financial bailout of the famed London Chop House in Detroit. Prechter also helped broaden the scope of the Detroit Auto Show, which evolved from a mostly local-based event into the North American International Auto Show. Another pursuit was lobbying government officials for such things as new roads and a second bridge across the Detroit River. Prechter's political activity was not confined to the local area, however, and he also helped raise $10 million to promote the Republican Party's "Contract with America" and coordinated a 1992 trip to Asia by President George Bush and a group of business leaders. Prechter had known Bush since the mid-1970s and had raised $1 million for his 1988 presidential campaign. He was later chosen to serve as chairman of the President's Export Council.

By 1992, ASC had grown to employ almost 3,000 worldwide and was operating plants around North America and in South Korea and Germany. It had revenues of an estimated $400 million. Construction of a new 115,000 square foot plant was begun in Columbus, Ohio, during the year to house all of the firm's sunroof production, transferring work from sites in Gibraltar, Michigan, and Youngshon, Korea. ASC had a new contract to build Honda Accord sunroofs, and much of the space was dedicated to this work, along with putting sunroofs in several Chrysler Corp. models. Honda had been making Accords at a plant in nearby Marysville, Ohio, since 1982.

In late 1993, ASC announced it would soon begin to work with General Motors to produce convertibles at an idle GM plant in Lansing, Michigan, for the so-called J-cars, the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunbird. The 50-50 joint venture was later named GENASYS. Fifteen thousand vehicles were expected to be produced each year by 180 workers. The year 1993 also saw the Aeromotive subsidiary partner with Freightliner to develop the FLD 170 sleeper cab.

Prechter Names New CEO; Company Restructured: 1995

In January 1995, Heinz Prechter gave the job of CEO to his newly hired chief operating officer, Donald Barefoot. He retained the job of chairman and also remained in place as CEO and president of the GENASYS venture. Prechter had reportedly decided to make the move to give him more time to devote to his political interests, as well as because recurrent bouts of depression sometimes interfered with his work.

Barefoot was taking over a company that appeared to be in decline. ASC had recently lost the contract to make convertible tops for Corvettes as well as a bid to supply Toyota with 100,000 sunroofs for the 1997 Camry, and had also ceased supplying convertible tops for the Saab 900. In 1995 and 1996, the firm was restructured and its staff trimmed, both on the manufacturing level and at the corporate headquarters in Southgate. The firm's four divisions--American Sunroof Co., ASC Convertible Systems Co., Automobile Specialty Co., and Aeromotive Systems Co.--were given more control over their own operations as well. ASC also sold a manufacturing plant in Owosso, Michigan, to Talon Automotive Group during this time. The company's original-equipment sunroof work was down from several years earlier, but it had nearly a quarter of the U.S. market for convertible top production. Other firms were aggressively entering the field, and ASC's restructuring moves were partly a response to this challenge.

In April 1997, having significantly improved ASC's fortunes, CEO Barefoot resigned and was replaced by Lawrence Doyle, a former General Electric executive. Prechter praised the departing Barefoot's efforts at making the company more organized and productive, telling Automotive News, "Until Don came, the company was floundering because I was running it from my hip pocket." At Barefoot's departure, ASC was again doing $400 million in business, up by a third from 1995, and the leaner company had one-third fewer employees. Following Doyle's installation, he too reorganized the company, combining the sunroof and convertible top divisions into one unit, American Sunroof Co. A new division, Aeromotive Services Co., was also formed to design prototype automobiles such as the Toyota Solara.

Other efforts of 1997 included formation of A Y Manufacturing, Ltd., a joint sunroof-making venture with Yachiyo, and Trim Systems, LLC, a joint venture between ASC's truck trim division (the former Aeromotive Systems) and Hidden Creek Industries. The company suffered another blow during the year when Chrysler Corporation announced it was changing sunroof suppliers for its popular Cirrus/Stratus models, dropping ASC to give the work to a new concern, Webasto Sunroofs Inc.

The year 1997 also saw Heinz Prechter create a new corporate entity called Prechter Holdings to own ASC and his other business interests. These now included the Heritage Media Group, which owned 12 suburban weekly newspapers in Michigan; Heritage Development, a real estate investment firm; Heritage Beef and Cattle, which operated a 10,000-acre cattle ranch in Texas; and Heritage Networks, an investment firm. Prechter and his wife also ran a charitable organization, the World Heritage Foundation, which contributed to the Downriver community, education, the arts, and the promotion of cultural exchange between the United States and Germany.

In 1998, ASC opened a new vehicle design and engineering facility in Warren, Michigan, and began producing vehicle enhancement packages for the Chevy Trailblazer and Pontiac WS6, as well as an entertainment system for the Oldsmobile Silhouette Premier. The following year, a new manufacturing facility was opened in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, for production of the Toyota Solara convertible, along with one in Bloomington, Illinois, to produce convertible tops for the Mitsubishi Eclipse. Prechter and real estate executive C. Michael Kojaian also banded together to buy JPE, Inc., an auto trim and heavy truck brake manufacturer, renaming it ASC Exterior Technologies, Inc. (ASCET). The company retained its publicly traded status.

In 2000, ASC opened a new technical center in Munich, Germany, to develop open-air systems for European vehicles, and also introduced new entertainment systems for GM minivans. In 2001, the company created ASC Vehicle Technologies to design and build vehicles out of a new facility in Oak Park, Michigan.

Death of Heinz Prechter: 2001

In July 2001, company founder Heinz Prechter took his own life in his Grosse Ile Township home. He had suffered from bipolar disorder for many years. Before his death he had been working on plans to sell off his business interests with his wife Waltraud, and the cattle ranch and newspapers were sold during the fall. In May 2002, a deal was reached to sell ASC to Jay Alix's Questor Management Co. LLC. Included in the sale were ASC Holdings, Inc. and its stake in the ASCET business, automotive engineering firm Triad Services Group, Inc., Prechter's remaining real estate and hotel holdings, and a home-building company in Florida that he also owned. Questor specialized in investing in companies, boosting their value, and reselling them, and it was expected that ASC would go on the block again within five years. In September 2002, former DiamlerChrysler executive Paul Wilbur was named CEO of ASC.

The year 2002 saw a new joint venture, American Sunroof Inalfa, launched with Inalfa Industries, which became the second largest maker of aftermarket sunroofs worldwide. The company was also producing convertible systems for the Toyota Solara, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, and BMW Z3 at this time, and the 2003 Chevrolet SSR convertible truck would soon bring additional work in this area.

Having spearheaded their introduction to the United States, ASC, Incorporated remained one of the leading manufacturers of sunroofs in North America. The company had also branched out into designing and building specialty vehicles, manufacturing truck trim, and installing convertible tops and entertainment systems. The recent death of founder Heinz Prechter, and the company's subsequent sale to Questor, had brought relatively few changes, and ASC continued to work with top carmakers like General Motors and Toyota to supply a range of specialty products.

Principal Subsidiaries: ASC Composite Systems; ASC Vehicle Technologies; ASC Creative Services; ASC Open Air Systems; ASC Specialty Vehicles; ASC Technologies; ASC Holdings, Inc.

Principal Competitors: Bestop, Inc.; Dura Convertible Systems, Inc.; ArvinMeritor, Inc.; Webasto Sunroofs Inc.; Delphi Corporation.

Further Reading:

  • Bailey, Laura, and Dietderich, Andrew, "'He Touched Every Person He Met'," Crain's Detroit Business, July 16, 2001, p. 21.
  • Barkholz, David, "ASC Seeks Big 3 Contract to Build Specialty Car," Automotive News, December 19, 1988, p. 4.
  • ------, "Faces: Heinz Prechter, ASC Corp.," Crain's Detroit Business, February 27, 1995, p. A60.
  • Carney, Susan, "Prechter Assets Sold Off," Detroit News, May 7, 2002.
  • Chappell, Lindsay, "Death Ends Prechter's Story of an Entrepreneur," Automotive News, July 9, 2001, p. 2.
  • Diem, William R., and Max Gates, "Trading on Good Will; ASC's Heinz Prechter has the Ear of the President," Automotive News, March 9, 1992, p. 3.
  • Fleming, Al, "Sky's The Limit; The Prospects are Sizzling for Installations of Sunroofs in Cars, Sport-Utilities and Vans," Automotive News, June 22, 1992, p. 6i.
  • Kosdrosky, Terry, and Robert Ankeny, "Prechter's Death Stuns; Business Leaders, Politicians Feel the Loss," Crain's Detroit Business, July 9, 2001, p. 1.
  • McCracken, Jeffrey, "JPE Becomes ASCET: Prechter, Kojaian Holding Companies Invest in Supplier," Crain's Detroit Business, May 31, 1999, p. 1.
  • Ramirez, Charles E., "GM and ASC May Expand Niche Operations," Automotive News, December 6, 1993, p. 4.
  • Renaux, Jean-Jacques, "He'll Do More than Slice Porsches; Prechter Expects Additional Work for New Plant in Germany," Automotive News, April 11, 1988, p. 46.
  • Sedgwick, David, "New ASC Chief Revamps Company to Stress Technical Development," Automotive News, June 9, 1997, p. 33.
  • Sherefkin, Robert, "Alix-Led Fund Set to Buy ASC; Questor Also Acquiring Other Prechter Holdings," Crain's Detroit Business, May 6, 2002, p. 1.
  • Strong, Michael, and Jennete Smith, "Heirs Continue Prechter Plan to Shed Nonauto Holdings," Crain's Detroit Business, November 12, 2001, p. 3.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 55. St. James Press, 2003.