May/June  2001

AGRReports     breaking news

 

Legal
ITC Issues Preliminary Ruling in Anti-dumping Case
The International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled unanimously on Monday, April 16, that in the case of the anti-dumping petition by Pittsburgh-based PPG, Safelite Glass Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, and Viracon/Curvelite of Owatonna, Minn., there is a “reasonable indication of injury or threat of material injury to the industry by way of alleged dumping.” All six commissioners in attendance voted in favor of the three U.S. automotive replacement glass manufacturers, who claim that replacement windshields imported from China are being dumped in the United States. The case will now go before the Department of Commerce, which will decide if the dumping of replacement windshields imported from China is actually occurring, and if so, to what level it is occurring.

The Department of Commerce was to take up the case on April 30. If it affirms that the dumping of these windshields is actually occurring, the issue will return to the ITC, which will then seek a full investigation of the matter. This investigation could take up to a year, according to the ITC.

Webster’s Dictionary defines dumping, economically-speaking, as “sending goods unsaleable at a high price in the home market to a foreign market for sale at a low price to keep up the price at home, and to capture a new market.” Thus, these three companies are charging that Chinese glass companies are sending their auto glass, unsaleable in China, to the United States and selling it at a price with which they cannot compete. 

“The U.S. replacement windshield industry has sustained significant injury from rapidly increasing exports of very low-priced ARG windshields from China,” said Garry A. Goudy, PPG vice president of auto replacement glass. “One U.S. producer has ceased operation, and the rest have experienced substantial financial harm,” he added.

“We are bringing this action to obtain relief under our trade remedy laws from significant injury that is being caused by rapidly increasing imports of unfairly low-priced ARG windshields from China,” said Apogee corporate secretary and general counsel Patricia A. Beithon. “In the past three years, we have seen some U.S. producers ceasing operations, while others, including Apogee, have sustained substantial financial harm,” she added. 

However, the companies’ attempts to stop the Chinese are not being very well-received by others in the industry. “PPG is just whistling in the wind, because there is no way they’ll be able to stop the Chinese,” said one distributor of Chinese glass. “They [PPG, Viracon and Safelite] have just brought this on themselves because for years and years they have been the only ones making profits because they had no competition, and that they do have competition they are just crying wolf. If they had had fair pricing all along this wouldn’t be happening.” He continued, “To make matters worse, look who they brought with them, Viracon, whom they practically own, and Safelite, who is in bankruptcy [sic].”

If both U.S. agencies do confirm the alleged dumping, it could lead to an imposition of anti-dumping duties on Chinese windshield makers. While the entire investigation could take close to a year, if found guilty preliminary duties could be imposed within 160 days. 

In a similar case which recently took place in the steel industry, the ITC ruled against the U.S. companies that claimed that Chinese steel companies were dumping their steel products, specifically steel wire ropes, in the states. The final hearing for this case was held on February 21, just nine days before Apogee, PPG and Viracon filed their petition with the ITC. The ITC voted on March 21 and notified the Department of Commerce on March 30 that an anti-dumping duty would not be imposed on Chinese exporters of steel wire rope. (See Dumped On feature for related story.

hand shakes
Pilkington North America Unites in Partnerships with Quest Software and Mainstreet Computers
Pilkington North America of Toledo, Ohio, has just announced that it has formed partnerships with both Quest Software Inc. of St. Johns, Mich., and Mainstreet Computers Inc. of Belleville, Mich. According to a press release issued by Pilkington, the companies hope to “provide integrated systems solutions for the auto glass replacement industry.”

“The combined functionality of Pilkington’s e-Premier™ site and Quest’s point of sale software will offer improved efficiency without compromising the independence or security of the retailer’s system,” said Pilkington North America AGR president Steve Rudd. “This is a revolutionary improvement for the glass retailer and the auto glass replacement market.”

Regarding Mainstreet, he added, “It’s like adding part look-up, electronic funds transfer (EDI) and direct purchasing and more to an already-long list of functions provided by our point-of-sale system.”

Quest vice president Terry Miller said that through this partnership, Pilkington’s e-Premier site and its point-of-sale software will be integrated so that a glass shop owner can do everything in one simple system, from creating invoices to checking part availability and placing orders. “This type of functionality does not exist anywhere in the market currently,” Miller added.

Joe Renzi, marketing manager for Pilkington AGR, said that no purchase was involved in either partnership. “Maintaining independence for Mainstreet, Quest and Pilkington was priority number-one,” Renzi said. “Unlike some, we felt that the glass industry professionals should maintain their privacy and independence when it comes to using a business point-of-sale system.”

Using Pilkington’s new e-commerce online ordering ability, combined with these softwares, which users will have to purchase to gain access to this service, glass shop owners will be able to conduct nearly all of their business transactions at once. “Our three organizations have made it possible for the retailer to complete all his business, including part availability, ordering and other business-related functions in one system. This makes doing business more efficiently, timely and cost-effective,” Renzi said.

Suit by Ex-Diamond Employee Remanded to District Court
Diamond Auto Glass of Kingston, Pa., has been sued by a former employee who claims he suffered racial harassment on numerous occasions during his time with the company at one of its facilities in Forestville, Md., according to court documents. The case was originally brought to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, where action was dismissed. James Spriggs, who was with the company from July 1993 until August 1995, and again from September 1996 to February 1997, appealed the case, which most recently was reversed in the state’s Court of Appeals.

According to court documents, Spriggs, an African American, was employed as a customer service representative, and left twice because he was “dissatisfied with the company’s response to certain actions taken toward him by his white supervisor.” According to Spriggs, his supervisor, Ernest Stickell, habitually referred to him using derogatory terms; Spriggs claims Stickell also spoke in similar terms of his wife, who is also African American, in his presence at various times. 

Spriggs claims he reported these incidents to company headquarters and little was done to reprimand Stickell. Likewise, Spriggs was offered a transfer to another store, which was a greater distance from his home, without reimbursement of any sort. Spriggs refused the transfer, to which Diamond’s director of human resources responded with a letter, assuring Spriggs that “Stickell would be terminated if he engaged in further harassment or attempted to retaliate against Spriggs in any way.” Thus, Spriggs returned to the Forestville store on March 10, 1997. Upon his return, he claims Stickell presented him with an unreasonable list of duties, which he could not possibly complete in his scheduled work day. When he saw the list, Spriggs left the store and never returned.

Following the recent appeal, the case was remanded to district court for trial, based on evidence that “a jury could rationally conclude that although Diamond’s institution of an anti-harassment policy represented a reasonable step toward preventing the type of abuse suffered by Spriggs, the company unreasonably failed to correct Stickell’s offending behavior by neglecting to enforce the policy.”

Mike Sumsky, general council and chief financial officer for the company, said Diamond Triumph expects to prevail in the case, as it has already been dismissed from district court twice. “We’ve had it dismissed twice at the lower court, and we’re quite confident that we will prevail again there,” Sumsky said.

standards
AGRSS Gains New Member; Sets November as Goal for Submitting Amended ANSI Standard
The Auto Glass Repair Safety Standards (AGRSS) Committee moved closer to a finalized ANSI standard at its last committee meeting on March 17 in Miami. According to AGRSS chairperson Cindy Minon, the meeting was so successful that the committee hopes to have a finalized standard submitted to ANSI by November. After each meeting, the working document is mailed to all committee members, who then have a chance to make comments on the document before the next meeting. Those comments are then debated at the following meeting and the document is amended accordingly.

At the March meeting, the committee covered 18 comments and implemented all of them into the document. The amended document was sent again to committee members in mid-April. They will have to get their comments in by the first week of June, before AGRSS’s next meeting on June 20 in Seattle. “At that point in time, we are hoping to answer any kind of negative votes, if there are any, and then if we can accomplish all of that in June, at that time it will go out to the general public and they will have an opportunity to comment on it,” Minon said.

The committee also gained a new member, Chuck Bibbiano of Glass America.

DialMark Sues LYNX Services by PPG for Various Charges, Including Defamation 
DialMark Inc. of South Jordan, Utah, has filed a suit against Pittsburgh-based LYNX Services of PPG Industries because it refuses to accept EDI transferred through its software. In the suit, DialMark charges LYNX with unfair competition and defamation, injurious falsehood, tortious interference and punitive damages. According to DialMark, LYNX will only accept its paper invoices, and charges it $7.50 for each one it processes. DialMark claims customers have sent it transcripts of instances when they’ve attempted to pass DialMark-processed EDI’s on to LYNX and they have been refused; in addition, these customers say they have been told that the reasoning for the refusal is that company co-president John Wharton stole LYNX’s or GTS Services’ codes when he worked there previously to use in his own company’s software.

Although the suit has been filed, DialMark has not served it on LYNX and, according to co-president Doug Call, it hopes not to have to serve the suit.

“We’re still trying to work toward an equitable solution and avoid going to court,” he said. “We’re just anxious to resolve the problem and move on.” 

PPG’s John Ruch declined to comment on the matter.

Car Dealer Charged with Offering Fraudulent Windshield-Etching
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has charged Gunderson Chevrolet in El Monte, Calif., with multiple counts of fraud, deceit and misrepresentation. Central to the charges is the sale of a windshield etching theft protection program by the car dealer, where identification numbers were etched on the windows of vehicles to clearly identify the vehicle in the case of theft. According to the DMV, the company claimed that if the vehicle were then stolen, the owner of the vehicle participating in the program could receive up to $5,000.

In its filing, the DMV alleges that Gunderson Chevrolet fraudulently used and misrepresented the nature and the price of the theft protection program in more than 1,500 cases and added more than $400 to the price of each vehicle.

Despite the suggested price of $299 for the windshield etching theft protection program and the fact that the actual cost of the program to Gunderson was $29, the car dealer promised customers there would be no additional charge for the service, but later added large fees to the price without their acceptance, according to the DMV. If these violations, among others, are proven, the DMV will have the ground to suspend or revoke Gunderson’s dealer license that permits the company to do business in the state of California.

Safelite Relieved from Much of  Severance Agreement
Although it will still be required to provide insurance benefits, Columbus, Ohio-based Safelite Glass Corp. has sought and won freedom from paying a great deal of severance payment to former Globe Glass & Mirror Co. employee William Tortorello, according to a document filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., in January. Tortorello’s employment was terminated when Globe merged with Windshields America Inc., and the merged entity was renamed Vistar Inc. At this time, a severance agreement was issued that provided for the company to pay certain severance obligations to him. When Vistar merged with Safelite, it was to assume the company’s obligations under the severance agreement with Tortorello.

However, shortly after Safelite filed for bankruptcy on June 9, 2000, it sought rejection of the severance agreement, according to section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code. However, the company’s reorganization plan was confirmed by the court on September 29 and the old Safelite changed its name to Safelite Reality Corp. and transferred a majority of its assets and operations to the “New Safelite.” When that happened, Tortorello filed a motion for an order allowing claims and directing payment.

However, Safelite had its way on December 7, when Tortorello’s attorney agreed to the company’s request to be relinquished from any payments associated with the life insurance division of the severance agreement. However, Tortorello and his wife will still be “entitled to COBRA benefits through the standard employee health benefit programs provided by the New Safelite, for such period of time as may be allowed by applicable law, upon timely payment to New Safelite of applicable premium amounts,” according to the court document. This agreement was signed by Paul Heath of Willkie Farr & Gallagher of New York City, attorney for Safelite, Martha Weis, attorney for Tortorello, and Mary Walath, U.S. bankruptcy judge.

CARE Represents Car Parts Shops in Montana Crash Bill Case
The Alexandria, Va.-based Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) is representing several companies in the automotive aftermarket of Montana in the state’s legislative session, where Sen. Ric Holden has introduced what it calls a car parts monopoly bill, S.B. 86. “ ... the State of Montana and former insurance commissioner O’Keefe, Sen. Holden has introduced yet another crash parts bill that will hand a legislative monopoly on vehicle crash parts to the original equipment manufacturers and the Montana auto body shops,” said Sandy Bass-Cors, executive director for CARE. Among those shops represented by CARE are NAPA, Midas, Checker Auto Parts, CARQUEST and Jiffy Lube.

According to CARE, this bill, if passed and expanded across the nation, could eventually allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine what parts are and are not suitable for replacements, including glass parts.

tidbits
Quick Thinking Brings Fast End to Glass Truck-Jacking
Quick thinking by an auto glass company employee led to fast recovery of his company’s van in a “truck-jacking” incident in February.

Mario Lorenzano, an employee of Glass America in Clarendon Hills, Ill., was approached from behind by two men on February 17 in suburban Chicago. Saying they needed the van, the men shoved Lorenzano aside and took off with the van, which was fully loaded with windshields and supplies ready for installation. 

Included in the driver’s seat was a company radio. The two robbers began playing with the radio and eventually reached Mike Swanberg, vice president of Glass America’s sister company, MTH Industries. 

“My name pops up on the radio, so they started talking to me,” said Swanberg, who was unaware that a robbery had taken place. “I thought that either one of our radios had gotten lost or that these guys were two of the rudest employees we’ve ever had,” Swanberg said, “so I called Clarendon Hills to find out the employees’ names. That’s when they told me about the car-jacking and that I was probably talking to crooks in the stolen van.” 

Swanberg thought fast and immediately radioed the robbers back in the van. “I said ‘hey man, did you pick up that money from our customer yet? You know she’s waiting to pay you and you need to take the money to the bank. Can you still do the pick-up?’ There was a pretty long silence and then one of them said ‘yeah, we can pick it up, no problem.’ So then I asked them where they were located so I could get directions then to the customer’s house. They told me where they were and I told them to hold on and I’d get them directions,” he said. 

But instead of directions, Swanberg called 911 and relayed the story to the operator who dispatched a number of patrol cars to the scene. “The police kept asking me for a description of the van. It’s red, white and blue with a big Uncle Sam on the side. It’s pretty hard to miss,” said Swanberg. 

Both alleged robbers were arrested and charged with car theft. “I guess these guys really wanted in the auto glass industry fast,” quipped Swanberg.

awards
REHAU's Plant in Cullman, Ala., Honored by Ford
Leesburg, Va.-based REHAU Incorporated's plant in Cullman, Ala., has been awarded the Q1 Award from Ford Motor Co. The award recognizes the plant as a supplier in good standing with Ford. The award recognizes the plant as a quality supplier in good standing with Ford and signifies increasing possibilities for opportunities with the Detroit-based automobile manufacturer.

The plant was honored at a ceremony on January 8 in Cullman. During the event, Robert Neal, Ford's STA engineer, presented the plant's manager, Albert von Pelser, with a signature Ford Q1 flag to fly outside the plant. "We commend Cullman REHAU on this achievement and look forward to seeing the results of your efforts in the vehicles we produce," he said.

financial
Visteon Announces Plans to Cut Costs by $700 Million; Seeks Buyers for Glass Business
The Dearborn, Mich.-based Visteon Corp. plans to cut its costs by $700 million in 2001 and is seeking partners or buyers for its glass, seat and steering businesses, according to chief operating officer Michael Johnston, who announced the company’s plans at the Automotive News World Congress in early-January. Johnston said a large part of the $700-million cost-cutting target would come from a 15-percent drop in overhead costs. In addition, he said that the plan would consolidate manufacturing, product development and marketing activities.

“We weren’t benchmarking the outside world. We weren’t seeing all our opportunities to meet our customers’ needs,” Johnston said. “We had too many layers between [chairman] Pete Pestillo and the plant.”

This announcement comes after a year of setbacks at Visteon, many of which have been attributed to Firestone recalls and Ford Motor Co. cutbacks in production during 2000.

Diamond Triumph Reports Record Year
Diamond Triumph Auto Glass of Kingston, Pa., recently announced that its net sales for last year increased $19.5 million, or 11.9 percent, to $184.0 million. During 1999, the company earned net sales of $164.5 million. EBITDA for 2000 also increased for the company by $4.6 million, or 33.3 percent, to $18.4 million from $13.8 million.

“We are extremely pleased with our 2000 operating results,” said Norm Harris, president. “We experienced a record sales volume and solid earnings. It was very rewarding after the challenging industry conditions faced in 1999 to respond with earnings growth in excess of 33 percent. We feel our performance is a direct reflection of our solid team of service and distribution center, sales and administrative personnel who have consistently displayed quality leadership and performance.”

Michael Sumsky, executive vice president and chief financial officer, agreed. “Our advantageous capital structure and low cost strategy allowed us to generate strong cash flow during 2000 to repay $7 million of our outstanding bank debt,” Sumsky said.

“This structure has allowed us to support our business needs during tougher industry conditions and to generate meaningful free cash flow during periods of increased earnings,” he added.

expansions
Solutia Announces Five Year Expansion Plan, Despite Economic Slump
St. Louis-based Solutia Inc. has announced that it will open several new plants and expand some of the currently-existing facilities throughout the five years. 

According to the company, the need for expansions was incurred by the growing demand for Solutia’s Saflex polyvinyl butyral product line. 

By the end of the five years, the company hopes to increase its worldwide production capacity by approximately 20 percent to meet the demand for Saflex in automotive and architectural applications.

“Solutia is committed to serving the anticipated growth in both the architectural and automotive markets,” said Vicki Holt, vice president and general manager for Performance Films at Solutia.

The company plans to increase the capacity of its Indian Orchard plant in Springfield, Mass., to produce its Saflex gradient automotive product lines. The expansion will begin in early-2002. In addition, the facility will gain the ability to produce Saflex SV PVB, a PVB specially formulated for the vacuum bag and ring lamination processes.

The expansions follow a busy year for Solutia, during which it also had several upgrades and advancements at its many manufacturing facilities, including an upgrade of a Saflex plant in San Jose dos Campos, Brazil.

“The installation will improve the quality of Saflex produced in Brazil as well as increase the plants reliability,” Holt continued. “Solutia is committed to investing in process and systems to bring high quality Saflex products reliably to our strategic Brazilian customers.”

These expansions follow a year of setbacks for the company, at the end of which it cut about 800 jobs to reduce costs. At the time of the cutbacks, the company issued a news release stating that the layoffs were incurred by uncertain economic conditions in both the United States and Europe during the past year, which led to an unexpected slowdown in the company’s activity.

Glass Depot’s Flat Glass Operations Acquired by SIGCO
SIGCO Inc. of Portland, Maine, has acquired the flat glass assets of PPG Auto Glass in Westbrook, Maine. Although terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, SIGCO president Dave McElhinny said he expects the assets to be of great benefit to his company.

“This venture will provide the central and northern New England marketplace with a unique combination of products and capabilities,” McElhinny said. “The acquired operations will enhance SIGCO’s distribution of flat glass and sundry items associated with the trade.”

The Westbrook facility was owned by Portland Glass originally, but became a Glass Depot distribution center when Portland Glass was purchased by Apogee Enterprises Inc. several years ago. Last year, it was converted into a PPG Auto Glass facility when PPG launched a joint venture with Glass Depot.

alerts
Ford Issues Alert on Backlite Defects
Ford Motor Co. of Dearborn, Mich., has issued a warning to dealers that the rear liftgates of some 2002-model Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineers may have defects. A report from the Associated Press said the glass in the rear liftgates on certain of these vehicles tends to shatter or detach when the gate is closed.

Ford is calling customers to alert them currently and says its dealers will repair the glass in the affected vehicles.

companies
Interlite Shuts Down Website
Interlite has discontinued its website, www.interlite.com, the home of www.glassbytes.com. However, Regina Newell, webmaster of the site, continues to maintain the site on her own, having been given the domain name by Interlite. “I got a call on February 28 and was asked to discontinue the site, but was told that I could have the glassbytes.com domain name to continue with on my own,” Newell said.

The website is now housed by endore.com, but its address remains the same.

kudos
PPG Awards Students for Innovative Auto Glass Designs
Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries recently sponsored the First Annual Auto Glass Design Awards for students at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies’ College of Art and Design. The PPG Design Challenge Awards went to the following design seniors: Herain Patel of Kennesaw, Ga., first place; Addam Ebel of South Bend, Ind., second place; and, Thamer Hannona of Warren, Mich., third place.

Ernest Hahn, PPG’s vice president of automotive glass, presented the awards for the students’ auto glass designs, each of which was designed with PPG’s ultraclear Starphire glass, during ceremonies at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. PPG plans to hold the competition annually in an effort “to identify new trends and product ideas,” Hahn said.

“We have indeed accomplished our most important goal of uncovering some innovative concepts,” he added.

Patel won his first place award for a design that is a cross between a car and a pickup truck. In the design, the vehicle is equipped with an electrochromic glass canopy with slats that open, close or stack for control of air and sunlight. The sidelites are comprised of a single-piece, upside down L-shape, and run from foot well to roof and front to back, with an operable glass inset window. In addition, a small glass lite is located within each door that can be rolled down and up Glass lites also slide from the roof and sides to enclose the truck bed.

The vehicle Ebel designed could be transformed from a sporty two-seat car, to a pick-up truck into a family car with five seats hypothetically. In its standard, sport form, the vehicle has a glass roof panel that can be pivoted upward to provide additional rear headroom for backseat passengers. Then, a slot-and-groove glass lite rises from the trunk as the top extends to become that back window. Ebel’s vehicle is equipped with electrochromic class on the roof, so that its shading can be adjusted with the turn of a knob or touch of a button.

Hannona’s innovative third-place-winning vehicle design is to serve as a sports utility vehicle with a flush-glazed windshield that goes over the A-pillar and a retractable glass roof. Each of the side doors is equipped with glass to provide additional interior light and an open feel to the vehicle. The tinted glass roof consists of three modular pieces that slide over each other for retraction into the trunk for a “drop-top” feel. Finally, the vehicle’s trunk is narrower than the passenger compartment and is covered by glass lites that slide up or fold down for access to the trunk. Then, a second backlite on the rear of the trunk slides up or folds down for carrying long materials.

AGRR

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