Editor's note: This article has been updated to note that Federal-Mogul, which was acquired by Tenneco Inc. last fall, is now known as the Powertrain Division of Tenneco.
DETROIT — Automakers depend heavily on suppliers for the innovations that help sell vehicles.
Faster acceleration, better brakes, quieter interiors, smarter controls, flashier paint, advanced safety, lighter-weight metals, improved fuel efficiency — it's often suppliers that churn those advances out of their labs and engineering centers.
And hungry automakers don't care whether vehicle sales are up or down at the moment, what political party is in power, nor what Wall Street thinks about the industry's future.
They just need product innovations to stay competitive and meet government regulations.
But how does a major technology supplier keep up the effort in the face of its own economic challenges and internal stress?
Federal-Mogul is a snap-shot of one company that has managed the feat.
Federal-Mogul, which was acquired by Tenneco Inc. last fall and is now known as the Powertrain Division of Tenneco, has steered through a bankruptcy, ownership changes and the Great Recession while keeping its pipeline full of innovative products. How it did so can offer a guide to automotive suppliers bracing for an anticipated downturn.
"We only had to look over our shoulder at all the competition to know that we had to keep innovating," says Keri Westbrooke, Tenneco Powertrain's director of engineering and technology.