Japan's Denso Corp. climbed into the top spot as the world's biggest supplier last year, after sitting at No. 2 behind Robert Bosch GmbH for three of the previous four years.
The change at the top of the Automotive News ranking of the top 100 global suppliers came amid market chaos and bankruptcies, plus currency crosswinds that favored Denso over Bosch.
It is an ongoing rivalry between two technology-obsessed competitors. Toyota owns 23 percent of Denso, a supplier of fuel systems, radiators, air conditioners and electronics. Bosch owns 5 percent. Bosch makes electronics, brakes, chassis systems, motors, navigation systems and other parts.
In 2009, Bosch's global sales to automakers fell 24 percent to $25.62 billion. Denso's fiscal-year sales rose 3 percent to $28.73 billion.
The numbers also reflect the roller-coaster conditions of 2009. Denso is on Japan's April-March fiscal year, so sales exclude the depressed first three months of 2009 and include the early 2010 rebound. Bosch says that if it were on the same fiscal year, it would have posted sales of $28.80 billion, edging Denso's $28.73 billion.
But the change also reflects Denso's long-running growth as it supports Toyota's expansion around the world. Denso has also racked up contracts with U.S. and European automakers, including General Motors Co. and Daimler AG.
"We've been fortunate to have a broad customer base and a broad product portfolio," says Terry Helgesen, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Denso International America Inc. He says the parent company's investments in new markets, particularly China, also have kept Denso's momentum going. But he is hardly popping the champagne.
"There are still some very, very strong competitors out there, and they're going to come back."
Suppliers provided most of the data for the ranking. Some companies' sales were estimated. The numbers do not include nonautomotive, aftermarket or heavy-duty truck sales. Sales are in dollars, translated when necessary from other currencies.
The dollar's weakness gave some suppliers a lift this year. For example, a Japanese supplier that reported exactly the same sales in yen in 2009 as in 2008 would have shown a 7 percent sales gain in dollar terms. A German supplier with unchanged sales in euros would have shown a 1 percent sales gain in dollar terms.
Even with the currency tailwind, many Japanese suppliers' sales fell. Take another Toyota affiliate: Aisin Seiki Co. Its sales fell 7 percent to an estimated $20.59 billion. But it moved from fifth to third place because of worse losses at other suppliers.
Meanwhile, seating and interiors supplier Johnson Controls Inc. dropped to No. 8 from No. 6, a casualty of slashed production among the Detroit 3. Delphi Holding fell from No. 7 last year to No. 9 this year as business declined by more than a third. The combined sales to automakers of the top 100 suppliers in 2009 was $648 billion, $151 billion less than the previous year's top 100.
Another major gainer was South Korean systems supplier Hyundai Mobis. It had global parts sales to automakers of an estimated $11.21 billion in 2009, a 27 percent jump from $8.85 billion. That came mostly from the rising sales of Hyundai-Kia Automotive.
But Mobis has also begun to win other customers. Mobis North America supplies a rolling chassis for the Jeep Wrangler built in Toledo, Ohio. This month, the U.S. subsidiary announced a $23 million investment in a Detroit plant where it makes suspension modules for the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"You're going to see many more factories under this umbrella," predicts Tom Cousino, manager of the Mobis operations in Toledo. The Detroit plant was formerly run by ArvinMeritor Inc. of suburban Detroit, which ranked 24th among global suppliers a year ago. ArvinMeritor does not appear in the latest ranking because it is leaving the light-vehicle market.
Says Cousino: "There is a lot of potential business for us out there."