The global car market slump is set to spark a wave of mergers and bankruptcies among automotive suppliers being squeezed to the breaking point by weak demand and unrelenting pressure on prices, executives say.
The current auto crisis will amplify the trend of consolidation of the industry, Peter Pleus, chief executive of German supplier Schaeffler Automotive, said on the sidelines of the Frankfurt Motor Show on Wednesday.
Ball bearings maker Schaeffler launched the biggest takeover of the sector last year by buying the automotive electronics and tires group Continental AG (CONG.DE) in an $18 billion deal.
I'm sure there will be some opportunities (for acquisitions) in a few years because there are many new producers and there perhaps isn't room for everyone, said the chief executive of French tire manufacturer Michelin (MICP.PA), Michel Rollier.
His remark mirrors those of managers from suppliers like Bosch ROBG.UL, Johnson Controls (JCI.N) and Honeywell (HON.N), who said they would look into buying interesting technology.
Experts expect a number of opportunities to surface as the crisis saps liquidity at suppliers.
The demise of suppliers is already reality and will continue, especially in the United States, said Hans-Georg Haerter, chief executive of German supplier ZF Friedrichshafen, citing companies like Lear Corp (LEARQ.PK) and Visteon Corp (VSTN.PK) that have filed for bankruptcy protection.
Of the 4,000 auto suppliers worldwide, 500 might become insolvent by the end of 2010, said analyst Christian Mueller at IHS Global Insight, adding companies whose products were closer to commodities than high-tech components were most at risk.
Problems at some auto suppliers create chances for others. We have been able to acquire contracts that Lear (LEARQ.PK) had before, senior Johnson Controls manager Johannes Roters said.
Despite new orders for a few, the industry faces a long dry spell which will make groups keep cutting costs and slashing thousands of jobs, experts say, although the worst may be over.
In the first quarter of 2009 it was like a sinking ship. It was a destocking crisis, and I don't think we'll see that again, Michelin's Rollier said.
Most executives expect recovery to come slowly. In the next 5-6 years the annual average growth in Europe, North America and Japan will be near zero, said Bernd Bohr, head of the automotive business at Bosch, the world's biggest supplier.
Sales are expected to shrink by an average of 25 percent at the top 100 suppliers worldwide in 2009, says Stefan Bratzel of the German think tank Center of Automotive.
(Additional reporting by Helen Massy-Beresford; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)