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New supply stress test for auto industry

Keywords: Tags  Automakers, shortage, emergency summit, Toyota, Ford, Original Equipment Supplier Association, Dave Andrea, corinna petry

CHICAGO — The North American automotive supply chain is again threatened by a shortage of a key product, and although it’s too soon to predict the economic consequences, the situation could result in a vehicle production slowdown.

In an echo of last year, when an earthquake and tsunami in Japan and persistent flooding in Thailand shut down suppliers of electronic components and paint chemicals, automakers now are facing a shortage of a critical material used in brake linings, fuel lines and other components.

The shortage stems from a March 31 explosion at an Evonik Industries AG chemical plant in Marl, Germany. The Essen-based company makes cyclododecatriene (CDT), which is used to produce a nylon resin called PA-12 (or Nylon 12). Evonik, which produces about half the world’s supply of PA-12, said it will take at least three months for the plant to return to normal production.

The resin shortage prompted an emergency closed-door meeting in suburban Detroit Tuesday that reportedly drew 200 representatives from automakers and suppliers. A spokesman for the supplier industry acknowledged that companies sent their crisis-management teams to the summit. Two automakers reached by AMM said they are monitoring the situation.

"We do believe we have this Evonik material in our supply chain, but we’re currently assessing all of our North American suppliers to get an accurate picture of that," a spokesman for Toyota Motors North America Inc. said. "Until that assessment is done, we don’t know if there’s going to be any impact on production."

A Ford Motor Co. spokesman said the company hadn’t experienced any disruptions, but "we’re aware of the situation and are monitoring it with our suppliers."

Members of the Troy, Mich.-based Original Equipment Suppliers Association attended Tuesday’s meeting, according to Dave Andrea, OESA’s senior vice president of industry analysis and economics. "It was definitely a working meeting," he said. "I would portray this as part of an ongoing due diligence of looking at alternatives both for material substitutions and the validation process."

Calling the incident "the ultimate stress test" for all the links in the supply chain, Andrea said that crisis response teams will have to look at "the entire value chain, from original equipment manufacturers to first tiers to component providers and material suppliers."

If there’s any bright spot, it’s that the stresses of 2011 have left the industry better prepared to adapt, Andrea said. But it likely will take months to come up with a Plan B for automakers and their suppliers.

"We’re in the discovery phase from the top to the bottom of the supply chain. Without a doubt, all the vehicle manufacturers and first-tier suppliers are going into a crisis management situation with the intent of protecting production schedules," Andrea said. "It’s too early to see how production will be affected."

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