Thus far, we have posted deep-dives on the first nine of our 2017 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains. We trust that our Supply Chain Matters readers are garnering insights from these prediction sand they have been helpful for setting objectives and work agendas in the coming year.
We have one prediction remaining which for this year is our final Prediction Ten, which for each year, dives into what we foresee as unique industry-specific supply chain challenges or environments for the coming year. This year’s industry-specific challenges were especially challenging in that we contemplated adding a lot of industries, more so than prior years. In the end, we will hone in on those industries that merit additional monitoring and updates in the coming months.
As Editor, I has also decided for the purposes of brevity and reader interest, to present each industry in a separate Supply Chain Matters blog posting. We will be posting these industry-specific predictions in a faster cadence.
We begin, to perhaps no one’s surprise, with the North America based Automotive sector.
Automotive Supply Chains Residing Across North America
We cite unique challenges for automotive supply chains residing across North America for two specific reasons. One relates to the ongoing industry dynamics related to accommodating product demand mix with inventory and capacity levels. The other with the potential impact of the new Trump Administration policies related to both North America and global trade that has certain automakers in the cross-hairs of direct Presidential criticism, and of U.S. Congressional efforts directed at U.S. corporate tax reform policies.
Record low gasoline prices in the first-half of the year boosted U.S. light vehicle auto sales to hit a record high of 17.6 million vehicles in 2016. That number was only slightly larger than the 17.5 million vehicles sold in 2015. Strong sales momentum in December reflecting 1.7 million vehicles sold during the last month had pushed the seasonally adjusted annual selling pace momentum to 18.4 million vehicles.
Of the total vehicles sold in the U.S. during 2016, 60 percent were classified as higher-margin light trucks. Promotional discounts heavily influenced sales of sedans and compacts, with the growth in demand for pricier pick-up trucks and SUV’s generally boosting auto maker profit margins. That helped to fund innovation efforts directed at autonomous vehicle technologies and efforts to meet stricter emission standards in future years. At the end of the year, the industry-wide average of new vehicle unsold inventories was the equivalent of three months, while the average of U.S. big-three automakers averaged upwards of 100 days of unsold inventories.
Looking to 2017, some auto dealers were uncertain if the sales momentum would last, given the current length post-recession sales cycle and the growing credit burden of U.S. and North American consumers in outstanding auto loans. Finished goods inventory levels for certain auto and truck models trended higher in the final quarter and some U.S. based OEM’s elected to curtail factory output levels and lower inventories in late December and January. Factory headcount cutbacks were further being exercised.
The challenge for automotive product management, supply chain management, sales and operations planning teams in 2017 will therefore be effectively managing model and volume mix sales and production output and overall inventory levels while maintaining or exceeding line-of-business goals related to product margins and profitability. To cite just one-example, the traditionally largest selling sedan in the U.S. market has been the Toyota Camry. As we publish this prediction in early February, Toyota reported a 25 percent decline in Camry demand while the smaller RAV 4 SUV outsold the Camry in January.
A singular planning framework can sometimes be a daunting challenge for automotive producers with independent product business groups. The problem can come-down to unaligned business processes and a lack of consistent data and information standards. In October, we featured a Supply Chain Matters commentary reporting on how Ford Motor was addressing such challenges in an effort towards a singular, global S&OP planning framework.
From the longer-term perspective, consumer affinity towards ride-sharing services, higher tech electronics and autonomous vehicle capabilities and IoT enabled vehicle services weighs heavy on future model product planning. The open question is how long will most North American consumers favor trucks and all forms of SUV’s vs more fuel-efficient smaller cars and traditional sedans. It usually comes down to the average cost of gasoline and on the continuation of promotional buying incentives. It’s a constant back and forth among product management and supply chain teams shepherded by longer-term goal setting from sales and operations planning teams.
Tesla the Disruptor
There remains the presence of industry disruptor Tesla Motors, which has successfully captured consumer brand loyalty through leveraged advanced technology in alternative energy powered vehicle models. Tesla has broken the mold in the notions of a vertically integrated supply chain, and is now, with the acquisition of Solar City, rebranding the company to be one of alternative energy. Thus, far has the bulk of its supply chain strategy anchored in the U.S. but that may have to change to accommodate two evident challenges. In order to support required broader annual global sales growth and especially for the over 300,000 booked orders for the Model 3, production volumes need to expand significantly the strategy to source and construct the huge lithium-ion gigafactory in the U.S. may well turn out to be a brilliant decision in the light of increased U.S. protectionism forces. If the U.S. Congress adopts corporate tax reform that exempts exports and taxes imports, Tesla may well find itself in a strategic advantage with other alternative energy powered vehicles who sell in the United States and globally.
Global Sourcing Dynamics
Automotive executives, both global and domestic, with U.S. and North America production and supply chain presence had their primary attention focused on incoming U.S. President Trump and his vow to stop job losses at U.S. automotive factories in favor of job gains within other countries. In January, The Wall Street Journal observed: “Few industries have spent as much time in Mr. trump’s crosshairs as the U.S. auto sector.” Trump stunningly defeated his rival by winning key U.S. Midwest states whose populations have a high dependency on automotive industry and services focused employment.
Mr. Trump’s statements on trade, border or import taxes have rattled auto executives. The President has signaled intent to re-negotiate trade policies within the existing North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and to impose added tariffs or a border tax on automotive imports from Canada, China, Mexico, and other countries. Mr. Trump specifically targeted Ford, General Motors, and Toyota for prior decisions to source new auto production manufacturing in Mexico. Auto executives have been packaging strategy announcements to invest more in U.S. based manufacturing.
The strategic stakes are high in that the entire industry has become globally integrated in production and supply chain component and finished goods flow. Mexico was especially being positioned as a North American product hub for lower margin vehicles and as a lower cost manufacturing hub for thousands of automotive component parts.
The larger concerns rest with the imposition of a border or import tax in conjunction with overall corporate tax reform. Such added costs may well tip the balance in landed costs significantly impacting existing margins and overall profitability. Imposing anywhere from a 20 percent to as much as a 40 percent tax on imports to the U.S. could force consumers to pay thousands more for new vehicles and similarly double-digit increases for auto component and aftermarket parts. Each could have a profound impact on future product demand and as we all know, it is quite difficult to predict the outcome of a political process.
As we pen our industry-specific predictions, such proposals remain a matter of speculation and a focus on intense lobbying efforts directed at the U.S. Congress. Where such efforts lead to will ebb and flow during the year, but a certainty is that automotive supply chains will have their teams quite involved in all levels of supply chain sourcing analysis and in supplier contingency planning. Supply chains that have a high product value-added profile dependency for importing component and finished goods parts into the U.S. will especially be challenged.
Further, there is the reality that automotive supply chains must continue to be globally focused to remain competitive and thus countries such as Mexico will continue to play a pivotal role in supply chain strategy. Bottom-line, the environment will be dynamic, and automotive supply chain teams will have little option but to serve as strategic advisors and counselors to line-of-business and product management teams.
This concludes our 2017 prediction related specially to automotive. In our next posting, related to Prediction Ten, we will dive into Commercial Aerospace manufacturers and respective supply chains.
Readers are reminded to review all our prior 2017 predictions postings. And a final reminder, all ten of our 2017 predictions will be available in a full research report which we expect to be available for downloading by February 10th.
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