Decisions in uncertain times – consequences for suppliers

Munich, July 2023

Decisions in uncertain times – consequences for suppliers

Munich, July 2023

hy Europe’s suppliers must move fast as OEMs shift their global production footprintThe days when suppliers could plan for a certain, steady-growth future are over. As Europe’s carmakers transfer manufacturing capacity to North America and China, suppliers must abandon static planning models and be prepared to change their strategic direction rapidly.

“Pandemic”, “semiconductor shortages” and “rising energy and finance costs” are just a few of the reasons heard over and over to explain the crises in the global car industry in recent years. Even in 2022, managers at automobile companies were still in permanent crisis mode, making decisions and taking action in an atmosphere of continuing uncertainty the new normal.  For the time being, the prospect of returning to steady growth in high single-digit percentages, as a linear updating of past growth trends, seems to have vanished.

The prevailing uncertainty affecting suppliers’ plans are reflected in auto manufacturers’ sales figures. Globally, the number of vehicles produced worldwide is still considerably less than pre-pandemic. In Germany, for example, 3.4 million vehicles were produced in 2022, by far the lowest annual volume since 1990. Meanwhile, German production forecasts for the rest of the decade are being revised downwards. Accordingly, it is expected that by 2030 only 34 million vehicles will be manufactured in Germany, a fall of 14% compared with earlier forecasts.

A similar picture is emerging for the rest of Europe, where production volumes have been revised downwards by 18%.  The clear winners are North America and China; here, forecasts have been revised significantly upwards, with almost 10 million additional vehicles projected to be manufactured in these two markets by 2030. Meanwhile, government initiatives, such as the US Inflation Reduction Act, and a focused industry policy have created additional incentives for Europe’s OEMs to shift more production capacity out of the region. 

Sharp increases in production prices are another factor undermining business confidence across Europe’s auto supplier industry.  German suppliers have been especially hard hit by price rises of 33% for wages, energy and raw materials in 2022, compared with the previous year. Suppliers have tried to pass on at least part of these additional costs to manufacturers, but negotiations have proved extremely difficult over the past year. As a result, the average profitability of German suppliers in 2022 was 3.5%, compared with 4% in 2021 – a meagre yield when set against the global industry average of 5.7%. Meanwhile, the bleak mood among

German suppliers seems likely to persist, given continuing uncertainty over whether negotiations with the manufacturers can be concluded successfully.

Throughout Europe, banks and financial investors are also losing confidence in auto suppliers due to the downward pressure on margins and volatile sales forecasts, which in turn are increasing refinancing costs with stricter loan terms. This higher investment risk is reflected by returns on European automobile bonds, which had risen by 197% since the end of 2021.

Against this crisis-ridden backdrop, few European suppliers have sufficient liquidity to pre-finance the new developments required by the accelerating transition to electric mobility. This shortage of capital also means they lack the means to expand their own networks in North America and China as OEMs shift production out of Europe. In both cases the stakes are extremely high and even existential for suppliers, adding to the prevailing mood of uncertainty. 

European suppliers with the best chance of success will be those which analyse their planning assumptions early, keep them constantly under review, and are ready to change their strategic direction rapidly at short notice. Static planning models were the model for success when forecasts were still in effect a linear updating of past growth trends. Adjustment of strategic planning assumptions within the financial year is the new order of the day.

Dr. Alexander Timmer


Dr. Alexander Timmer

Dr. Alexander Timmer (1981) joined the Berylls Group, an international strategy consultancy specializing in the automotive industry, as a partner in May 2021. He is an expert in innovation and market entry strategies and can look back on many years of experience in the operations environment.
Dr. Alexander Timmer has been advising automotive manufacturers and suppliers in a global context since 2012. He has in-depth expert knowledge in the areas of portfolio planning, development and production. His other areas of expertise include digitalization and the complex of topics surrounding electromobility.
Prior to joining Berylls Strategy Advisors, he worked for Booz & Company and PwC Strategy&, among others, as a member of the management team in North America, Asia and Europe.
After studying mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and Chalmers University in Gothenburg, he earned his doctorate in manufacturing technologies at the Machine Tool Laboratory of RWTH Aachen University.