SPX Corp., an auto-industry supplier and service provider, has moved to establish a major platform in the electrical and industrial controls business. The company agreed to acquire General Signal Corp. for $45 a share in stock and cash, about $2 billion.

General Signal is roughly twice the size of its suitor, SPX, Muskegon, Mich., which reported 1997 sales of just under $1 billion, while General Signal reported $1.95 billion. SPX has a variety of subsidiaries that manufacture tools and component parts or provide supply and maintenance services to vehicle dealers and service shops.

The deal, which has been approved by the boards of directors of both companies, is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 1998.

Under terms of the agreement, General Signal shareholders would end up owning about 60% of the combined companies' shares. The newly formed company would retain the SPX name and headquarters. Michael Lockhart, General Signal's president and CEO, and General Signal's other senior officers would leave General Signal when the acquisition is complete.

SPX said it has identified cost savings of $55 million to $60 million, which could be realized in the first year after the merger. SPX is run by John Blystone, a former GE executive who earned a reputation for dramatically improving shareholder value for SPX shareholders in his two-and-a-half years as chief executive officer. During his tenure, SPX's share price, long an underperformer prior to Blystone's arrival, has risen almost four-fold since late 1995.