ACME — After a decade of bullish outlooks, automotive suppliers need to buckle up for a period of upcoming disruptions. 

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A decade into the economic recovery, the region’s automotive suppliers continue to ride the wave of vehicle sales volume in the North Amercian and global auto market. Yet, many are bracing for an impending downturn, which analysts predict will occur somewhere in the early 2020s. Primarily, suppliers are planning on weathering any upcoming downturn by banking on investments in new technologies, including electric vehicles and automation, whether through increased R&D spending or through acquisitions. 

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From rubber horseshoes to roll-covers for paper, metal and other industries, Vail Rubber Works Inc. has been steadily serving supply chains in West Michigan for more than a century.

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HOLLAND — Reports this month that LG Chem plans to build a second U.S. lithium-ion battery plant underscore how much the automotive industry has evolved in the six years since the company started making advanced batteries in West Michigan.

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West Michigan manufacturers have taken a disciplined approach to research and development spending throughout the sustained period of economic recovery and growth. 

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Despite a looming plateau in auto sales and automakers overwhelmingly betting on the same pieces of the market, savvy suppliers could still realize major opportunities in the coming years. Those opportunities come as automotive sales hit nearly 17.3 million units for 2018, with trucks and SUVs up 8 percent, accounting for around 11.8 million units. Meanwhile, passenger car sales dipped 13 percent to 5.5 million units.

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Whether the West Michigan manufacturing industry continues on an ongoing growth trend in 2019 or veers into a contraction remains uncertain. Economist Paul Isely, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, uses automotive, furniture, agriculture, and “amazingly nowadays” aerospace manufacturing to find the pulse of where the region’s economy is headed in the coming months and years. 

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The 2019 forecast for the automotive industry remains steady, although sales are expected to experience “a little bit of a step down” to 16.8 million units compared to an expected 17.1 million units this year, according to Mike Wall, director of automotive analysis at IHS Markit. The big cloud over the industry currently hinges on tariffs and trade deals, specifically the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. Wall expects the USMCA to get enacted in some form, even though he does expect to see “some adjustments on the margins.”

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MANISTEE — A Northern Michigan-based manufacturer of electronics and electrical assemblies has been acquired by a portfolio company of New Water Capital Partners LP of Boca Raton, Fla. 

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NEWAYGO — A West Michigan Tier I automotive supplier is investing $45 million into a 175,000-square-foot facility expansion designed to improve workflow and efficiency. 

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