In a business in which growth is the mantra, 56 of the world's top 100 suppliers stalled or slid backward in their quest for more original-equipment sales in 2001, according to the Automotive News annual ranking of top global suppliers.
The second-best North American light-vehicle sales year in history failed to raise supplier fortunes. Robust European demand, led by booming dealerships in France and Britain, did not help. Even the spirits of Japan's largest players, still depressed at home but alive with market share gains overseas, sagged as the year closed.
"I think you have to take these numbers at their face value," said Drew Newton, auto analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in New York. "They show what happens when the world's automakers start cutting production volumes as they did last year. This is a pretty simple industry: You build fewer cars, you sell fewer parts."
Automakers built 57.5 million cars and trucks produced in 2001, a reduction of 2.3 million units from the year before. The few bright spots in global auto manufacturing last year - China, Germany, Belgium, South Africa - could not make up for the painful factory cuts in the United States, Canada and Japan.
The world's 100 biggest suppliers delivered $347.9 billion in parts and systems to auto plants last year, down from $350.6 billion the previous year. This was even as the industry continued to consolidate its parts making into the hands of fewer, larger companies.
But that aggregate tells only part of the story. Few of the 43 suppliers who managed to eke out higher revenues during the year had real cause to celebrate. Many posted their gains not through persuasive sales pitches or brilliant technology but through old-fashioned mergers and acquisitions and accounting department revisions.