(Sept. 11, 2006) — Suppliers to Ford Motor Co. must be holding on to their hats — or perhaps some other sections of their anatomy — following last week's news that an outsider is coming in to run the company.
Recruiting Alan Mulally from Boeing Co. could be a brilliant move. After all, there are plenty of parallels between Boeing and Ford. Both are industrial manufacturers, both were saddled with high costs, a unionized workforce, and facing tough competition.
Hollywood could write a storybook script for how Mulally will turn Ford around, using the skills and experience he gained at Boeing. He can boost productivity, skillfully reduce manpower (something Detroit historically has a tough time accomplishing), and save another American icon from a slow slide into insignificance.
Mulally can even make plastics part of the story. At Boeing, the 787 Dreamliner, with its unprecedented use of lightweight composite materials, is kicking the tail of the competing aircraft from rival Airbus. Mulally can thank the composite materials sector for the process and material improvements that made the 787 possible. You can bet those same companies will fall over themselves to prove to Ford that they can make automobiles and trucks far more fuel-efficient, too.
Still, Mulally faces some pretty big hurdles. Cutting costs isn't easy in Detroit — every cut seems to mean a big upfront expense. Changing a Big Three automaker isn't easy, and outsiders typically face opposition from the more traditional “car guys.” Perhaps most important, the federal government seems inclined to let Ford and General Motors Corp. sink or swim on their own, without any help.
Still, we're rooting for Ford's success, and we hope the company will tap into the help that its suppliers can provide.
What's new in the film and sheet market?
Well, like just about every other plastics sector in North America, we see some good signs, but the environment is pretty tough. Here's a snapshot of the industry from our recent rankings:
* The 2000 ranking (1999 fiscal year) had 213 companies with $23,022 million in processing sales. Of these companies, 15 did not appear in the next year's ranking: nine were acquired by other companies (Tyco Plastics was busy), and five went out of business.
* The 2001 ranking had 212 firms with $24,419.1 million in processing sales. Fourteen were new to the list. Eight companies did not go on to the next year: of those, four were acquired, one closed.
* The 2002 ranking had 214 companies with $24,417.4 million in processing sales. Ten companies were new to the list. Ten did not appear in the next year's ranking: two were acquired, three closed.
* The 2003 ranking had 215 companies with $23,953.6 million in processing sales. Eleven were new to the list. Eleven companies did not appear in the next year's ranking: four were acquired
* The 2004 ranking had 208 companies with $24,839.5 million in processing sales. Four were new to the list. Seven companies did not appear in the next ranking: two were acquired, three closed.
* The 2005 ranking had 208 firms with $26,899.8 million in processing sales. Seven were new to the list. Nine did not appear in the next ranking: three were acquired, three closed, one moved to China.
* The 2006 ranking has 203 companies with $29,901.9 million in processing sales. Four were new to the list.