Auto Connection to Local Economy
Band instruments and recreational vehicles. Those industries have been at the core of the greater Elkhart area economy and its communities for several decades. For more than a generation, the automotive market has also been a significant element in the local economy.
During the 1970s, Elkhart’s own CTS (originally known as Chicago Telephone Supply Company) recognized an opportunity in the automotive industry. For nearly 70 years, the business was immersed in the communications market. Four decades ago, concerns over environmental pollution led to U.S. Government mandated automotive emissions control requirements. Electronic sensors were developed to fill the need to monitor throttle position and exhaust gas recirculation controls. And CTS dove into the custom automotive sensor business, opening new market opportunities for the company.
Since then, CTS has served the automotive market with position sensors for applications such as throttle control, exhaust gas recirculation systems, intake valves and turbocharger position sensors. The company produces rotary actuators for tuned manifolds and other engine systems controls, and a broad line of electronic accelerator pedal modules for light-duty and commercial vehicle manufacturers worldwide.
Recently, the Beardsley Avenue based CTS expanded into the commercial vehicle, off-road and heavy equipment markets. The company developed and introduced a robust “Smart Actuator,” designed for fuel delivery management, control of variable vane turbochargers which is suitable for a variety of other large diesel engine management functions. Additionally, CTS Automotive Products supplies position sensors to the small engine market that includes motorcycles, ATVs, outboard engines and more.
Among the Chamber’s other members in the automotive industry are:
Chassix, in Bristol, was formed through the integration of Diversified Machine and SMW Automotive and produces several parts for the auto industry, including, brackets, control arms which are links between a vehicle’s chassis and suspension, cross members that assist in proper vehicle handling, knuckles - where wheel meets suspension meets steering. Engineering, designing specialty parts, testing and validating are all among the services offered by Chassix.
Tenneco Inc. is one of the world’s leading designers, manufacturers and distributors of clean air and ride performance products and systems for the automotive, commercial truck and off-highway markets and the aftermarket.
It employs nearly 29,000 employees around the world with its headquarters in Ligonier and a key plant in Elkhart near County Road 17. Tenneco has more than 90 manufacturing facilities on six continents and 15 engineering centers around the world. Tenneco produces parts for passenger cars, light trucks, off-road vehicles and several other industries.
GDC serves a wide range of industries, growing globally from its modest beginnings in 1955 die cutting parts for the automotive industry. The company supplies over 20 million parts annually to companies like Ford, Toyota, GM, Trane and more, including air and water deflectors, gimp, duct and foam seals, gaskets and adhesives, engine cover foam, fuel tank isolators, filters and diaphragms and dozens of other products.
CMI Enterprises has been in the auto industry for over 25 with locations in Miami, Florida, and a second state of the art manufacturing plant in Elkhart. The company’s distribution facilities in Arlington, Texas, and Los Angeles, California, are strategically positioned to serve customers across the nation in a timely manner, supplying aftermarket headliners, upholstery, a wide selection of genuine durable leathers, poly-urethanes, faux suede, vinyl, fabrics and sidewall materials. CMI also serves several other industries.
Kem Krest Corporation started in 1979 managing the General Motors chemical line. Over the years, its customer base has grown, expanding beyond the automotive industry to include the agriculture and industrial and defense industries. It now also serves Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai.
Recently, the company founded Kem Krest Defense which works with the Department of Defense and its prime suppliers.
The company does $150 million in revenue annually, growing with double digits every year.
Amish Shah and David Weaver bought the company in 2009 and developed a creative and strategic board of directors with an entirely different strategy. At a time when Elkhart County was bottoming out during the recession, Kem Krest leaders looked at the possibility of relocating the operation across the country.
Communities in Tennessee, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio offered millions in immediate tax breaks. Shah says the dollars that dangled were very tempting for a new venture with a promising future. “But we couldn’t leave,” Shah says. “In the long run, we knew it was a better investment to stay in Elkhart.”
Shah and Weaver reached beyond their GM base and landed additional clients.
“The more (business) we grab, we can offer better service and a low cost – more volume and scale,” says Shah, who also is one of six on the GM Supplier Council – and is the only one not from Detroit.
He says businesses in the auto industry can be even more optimistic. “It’s at the best point in years. Manufacturers are making the best product, great quality and the average age of a car on the road is 11 years, now,” he says. “This is the new auto industry.”
Kem Krest distribution warehouse in Elkhart