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Sunday, 01 February 2015 22:00

Suppliers turn to auto shows for competitive benchmarking

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Melissa Anderson, IRN Inc. Melissa Anderson, IRN Inc. COURTESY PHOTO

Automakers use national and regional auto shows to generate excitement and make statements about their products and brands.

The primary audience is consumers and the news media, but component suppliers can find them useful in several ways as well.

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), like many others, always begins with a two-day press preview that requires media passes for entry, followed by two days reserved for industry participants — all of which takes place before the nine-day public show.

One of the ways that industry personnel use the show is for competitive benchmarking. It is easy to tell who is on a fact-finding mission as the clipboards, cameras and tape measures that they carry are a dead giveaway. Companies or departments whose products are visible are the most active, but supplier and OEM personnel can also be quite aggressive about getting access to what they want to see. It is up to the showroom staffers to shoo away anyone wielding a wrench or screwdriver.

Another application for supplier attendees is simply to gauge the outlook for key programs in their portfolio of sales. The auto show is an opportunity to form an independent opinion of the strength of a new model by seeing it up against others in the same product segment.

It is a subjective judgment, of course, but it can be helpful as a forewarning of possible variation — either up or down — from the contracted volumes.

A small number of components suppliers use the auto show more directly by participating as exhibitors. Non-automaker companies with booths on the main showroom floor at Cobo Hall in Detroit this year were Aisin, Denso, Michelin, ZF Group, and Verizon. Other suppliers with displays on the concourse level included Hitachi Automotive Systems and Unique Fabricating.

These are not the largest automotive suppliers — and in fact, some of them are not large at all — so it is interesting to speculate about what made these companies decide to make the considerable investment in exhibiting.

Most of these are foreign-owned companies — Japanese, French or German — so they might feel more of a need to win over North American decision-makers.

Aisin, a Japanese company that says it is the fifth-largest Tier One supplier in the world, was in its third year of exhibiting its safety-related and sunroof products at the Detroit show. It said previously that its objective is to raise awareness of the Aisin brand via access to executive and technical personnel from every major global automaker and to hundreds of thousands of car enthusiasts.

Another Japanese supplier, Hitachi Automotive Products, said in its first appearance at the Detroit show this year that it wanted to familiarize Americans with its brands and products already on their vehicles, including electronic controllers and high-pressure fuel systems.

For other companies, a key goal was to enhance their technology reputations. Denso showed environment and safety products, with a particular emphasis on what it termed “cutting-edge vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure and Human Machine Interface technologies.” Denso is staking out territory as a player in connected and self-driving vehicles to make an impression on automaker customers and to develop consumer acceptance.

Verizon Communications used the show to promote its new Verizon Vehicle roadside assistance service. The company is going directly to consumers with a cellular module that enables an aftermarket two-way communications service for assistance, diagnostics, incident alerts and a mechanic hotline. This device is not necessary if your new vehicle comes equipped with a system such as OnStar, but Verizon is betting there is a large and underserved market that it can reach by talking to those who came to the show for entertainment, not to select their next car.

Most suppliers in West Michigan would be unlikely to find the cost-benefit analysis persuasive on the side of exhibiting at an auto show, but they might want to monitor the example of Unique Fabricating, a $120 million die-cut fabricator of non-metallic materials that joined with three other companies to show a concept car featuring renewable and recycled polyurethane foam. The simple rarity of a supplier of that size taking this step may raise its profile.

Time will tell if there are more tangible benefits as well.


Read 3216 times Last modified on Sunday, 01 February 2015 22:52

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