Limousine-stretcher succeeds by using skills on both sides of border

Eagle Allen Executive Automobiles -- or Allen Coachworks, if you prefer the company's American name -- is not your typical maquiladora. Unlike the modern assembly plants that are a growing part of this and other Mexican border cities, there are no neat rows of well-lighted work tables here, no young women in uniforms of smocks and shower caps, and no well-trimmed lawns and spotless parking lots reminiscent of the Silicon Valley.

Outside this metal and cinder-block building, where girlie calendars predominate over production charts, squawking parrots set the tone as newly stretched Lincolns and Cadillacs maneuver through a mine field of potholes, and the scent of frijoles wafts in from neighboring shanties.

Perhaps the most striking departure from the industrial-park variety of maquiladora is Coachworks' owner and operator Carlos Allen, who -- unlike his typically tight-lipped counterparts in the electronics assembly plants -- is a self-professed ``loud-mouth'' pleased to introduce just about anyone to his operation.

``I'll show you whatever you want to see; my cars are beautiful,'' says Mr. Allen. His 130 employees, all men, except for the office secretaries, produce an average of 20 stretch limousines a month, each nearly the size of the Queen Mary, and all certainly as plush.

In other ways, Mr. Allen's plant is a typical maquiladora. About 95 percent of the materials to be used are American, shipped in from Laredo, where the company has 10 employees. And all of the cars will go back.

``Each car is packed [in the US] with just about all the components it'll need,'' says Allen, whose voice and body language appear to have adopted the scale of the company's product.

Once the stretching, soldering, sanding, mechanics, painting, and polishing are completed, the car is sent back to Laredo for tire changes, window tinting, and other last-minute touches.

``The televisions, telephones, and other special electrical equipment go in over there,'' adds Allen. ``Things like that the Mexican government doesn't want coming in.''

Allen says that because of the lower labor costs in Mexico: ``We're able to deliver more product at the price of the US-made car.'' Attesting to that appraisal is a framed note from Bette Davis on Allen's office wall.

``Robert A. has always had a beautiful car,'' writes Miss Davis, referring, Allen says, to her chauffeur. ``But this is super.''

Now Eagle Allen Executive Cars is gearing up for a new product line that will also reflect a fledgling evolution in the maquiladora industry: reproduction of a classic Mercedes roadster that will contain many more Mexican-produced parts.

``When we're done, it will be the car with the most Mexican content,'' says Allen, adding that Mexican maquiladora officials plan to show the car to Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid as an example of the maquiladoras' bright prospects.

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