Back from two weeks’ ‘holiday at home’ (not entirely my first choice; do not mention the words ‘Iceland’ or ‘volcano’) to a mixed week for the auto biz. It’s nice to see a bit of uptick, at last, in the components sector with Magna back in the black in the first quarter on the back of increased OEM production in the USA (especially) and Europe and increased complete vehicle sales as new contracts like the Peugeot RCZ kicked in to replace the Chrysler minivan assembly withdrawn back to the US from the plant in Austria some time ago.

We also had news of the stepping back of founder Frank Stronach after a busy year which included being in on a bid for Opel before The General took down the ‘for sale’ sign in Russelsheim.

Visteon, too, enjoyed a good Q1 and, satisfyingly back in profit was Lear which is banking on a cautious and, I suspect, realistic 11m units of production in the US this year. ArvinMeritor also reported a healthy Q1.  Capping off a good week’s news for the sector came encouraging reports from tyremakers Cooper and Bridgestone and an upbeat report from Germany. Such news must provide encouragement for the good ship supplier and all who sail in her in the same week in which the Dow plunged on Greek fiscal uncertainty and the London financial markets got jittery after the UK this morning woke up to a hung parliament.

After the OEM output downturn following the 2008 credit crunch, suppliers had to swallow some bitter medicine which, for most we track, meant major restructuring and the subsequent, inevitable cuts to headcount and facilities, so it’s good to see some signs that maybe the major pain is over and some consistent profitability is returning. It’s a tricky business to be in – always planning several years ahead, being asked by OEMs to absorb larger shares of R&D cost and greater financial risk while focusing today on delivering the widgets just in time while meeting ever more stringent quality and cost targets. Restructuring continues across the sector, as today’s news about Visteon’s latest reorganisation moves show.

There was also some healthy news on the new car sales front from quite a few markets. Our Man in the US, Bill Cawthon, reported on an April up 20% with Ford again leading the Detroit three, and we also had encouraging news from Japan (up a record 33.5%), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Our Man in Colombia. Of course, a good month, or even quarter, does not necessarily make for a good year but, after reporting so much gloom over the last 2-3 years, it’s nice to see at least the seeds of some recovery.

China continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace, but the pace of investment does not seem to be slowing much; barely a week goes by without a report of some new development such as this and this, and even countries in ‘flat’ western Europe, such as us in the UK, are now seeing uptick as well, albeit off a pretty low 2009 base.

One or two basket cases, remain, of course, and we took a close look at one such today.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor