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Auto parts: 200,000 may lose job; 4,000 units face closure

By Manu A B in Mumbai
December 17, 2008 17:20 IST
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India's auto component makers are facing one of the biggest crises ever. With the domestic market in the doldrums and the exports to the American market badly hit, many companies are on the verge of shutting down.

The entire supply chain of auto companies is bearing the brunt of the economic meltdown. From Tier-1 companies to small-scale units, all are facing a huge fall in demand, delayed payments and a stiff liquidity crunch.

"About 4,000 ancillary units are on the verge of closure and about 200,000 people will be affected by this crisis. Most companies have cut down the number of shifts, working days and are cutting down production. The US crisis has aggravated the problem," says Anil Bhardwaj, secretary general, Federation of Indian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (FISME).

The commercial vehicle segment is the worst hit by the crisis. Such crises are cyclical, and tend to recur every 5-6 years, but a calamity of this magnitude has put all companies in trouble. "Auto component makers are hit very badly. The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have not been able to sell stocks. Cash flow is getting hugely affected. Payments are getting delayed, affecting a lot of projects. The overall sentiment is negative," says Jayant Davar, vice president, Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA).

Domestic woes

It all started with the crisis in the auto industry. Car sales, which were booming, have now plunged. In the wake of the marked economic slowdown, there is a severe credit crunch. This has, in turn, slowed down demand for vehicles.

"Payments to vendors are getting delayed, loans for capacity expansion are not being sanctioned, and banks are refusing loans to auto companies that are supplying to companies like General Motors, Ford, etc. The removal of insurance cover for exporters too has severely hit the industry," Davar explains.

The Chennai-based Sundram Fasteners, which supplies radiators caps and fasteners to General Motors, says it is more worried about India than the United States. "Most of the auto companies have done very badly in 2008. The business in the second half of the year has been 50 per cent less than in the first half," says V G Jaganathan, president (finance), Sundram Fasteners.

The US impact

The auto crisis in the US has only worsened the situation. Auto component makers' exports to the Ford, GM and Chrysler were growing at 50-70 per cent. Out of this 35-40 per cent of the exports were to GM in North America. GM accounts for about $500 million of India's auto component exports.

Exports from Indian companies accounted for over $3 billion last year. "We were expecting a 20 per cent year-on-year growth. But this year, this has drastically fallen to about 6 per cent. November and December were the worst months for auto component makers," says Davar.

The auto sector is amongst the worst-hit industry sectors. Adding to their woes is the cancellation of credit insurance which protects manufacturers against payment defaults from buyers.

The Export Credit Guarantee Corporation has frozen issue of fresh credit risk insurance (CRI) cover to Indian component vendors of US auto giants. "Auto component makers are coping with the double whammy of the domestic market and the export market," says Bhardwaj.

Meanwhile, GM India is playing down the impact of the parent company going under. "GM North America is in crisis while GM Europe has flat growth. GM Latin America and Middle East, and GM Asia Pacific are doing well. GM has already sourced components woth $500 million from India and it will meet the target of $1 billion by 2010, as other markets still need components," says P Balendran, vice president (corporate affairs), GM India.

For companies like Sundram Fasteners, the crisis will have short-term impact. "GM accounts for about 2-3 per cent of the total business. We will continue to outsource products. In case, GM files for bankruptcy, payments will be delayed. Bankruptcy does not mean closure, it is restructuring," says V G Jaganathan.

Big trouble

Sandhar Technologies, a diversified auto parts maker that has plants in the Europe, has seen a fall in business by about 50 per cent.

"The topline growth for Sandhar Tech has grown to Rs 800 crore (Rs 8 billion) compared to Rs 640 crore (Rs 6.4 billion) last year. But the bottomline growth has been severely hit. Steps taken by the government -- like Cenvat cut -- are just nominal. There is no liquidity in the market. With high auto loan rates and a scary job market, the last thing on anyone's mind would be to buy a car," Davar, who is also the CEO and founder of Sandhar Technologies, laments.

Auto component companies employ about 400,000 people. The small and medium enterprises in India employ about 3.3 crore (33 million) people. Many of these SMEs are in the auto sector. A good majority of them have already lost their jobs and the sector is likely to see more job cuts.

"Though the jobs cuts are not apparent, a large number of people have already been asked to leave. "Many ancillary units which supply to these companies are also likely to be wiped out if the crisis continues," Davar says.

Commercial and passenger vehicle sales have fallen drastically. Unless sales go up, the market will continue to be sluggish, says carmakers. Most of the companies were half way through expanding their operations and building new capacities. It is now a huge burden on these companies as they have to bear the huge interest costs and the defaults in payments.

Help us!

Many banks have refused to offer credit to companies who are supplying to GM. They fear that in the event of a bankruptcy, their payments will also get stuck. Many companies established auto plants in India to enjoy the benefits of the excise cut exemption. They have already invested huge amounts into these plants.

ACMA has asked the government to intervene and help the industry. There should be more liquidity in the system. Many banks have pulled back credit to auto companies. The interest rates have to come down to push sales. Auto companies badly need the ECGC cover. The government should look into these issues.

Auto crisis & GM India

The crisis will not have any impact on GM's India operations. The company's plans are going on as per schedule. "We will go ahead with our plans with internal approval so the crisis in the US will not affect us in India. GM is the only auto company which has seen consistent growth despite a fall in sales in November," says Balendran.

Optimistic even during the crisis, he says that GM India performed better in 2008 than it did in 2007. "In 2006, we sold about 35,000 units; in 2007, we sold about 60,032 units, while in 2008, we have already sold 72,000 units. It has been a steady growth," he says.

GM has inaugurated the engine plant at Talegaon, with a capacity of 160,000 units. This plant is expected to be commissioned in the year 2010. GM India is likely to hire 500 employees at the plant. GM has also started the engine power train facility with a capacity of 140,000 units.

"We have already hired 1,000 people and we will be hiring 500 more. We have no plan to cut production or cut costs. The reason for GM's success in India is the product line up. Starting from Rs 2.99 lakh (Rs 299,000), we have cars for every segment. We will be launching the new Captiva in January, a sedan called Cruze mid next year, and a mini car in 2009. The upgrades programme will also continue as planned," Balendran adds.

Bleak future

How long will the crisis last? There are no definite answers to this.

"We are hoping the situation will improve slightly in the Jan-Mar quarter. But if the recession worsens, it will only be tougher for companies to get going," says Davar.

GM India believes the situation will take many months to improve. "The slowdown has gathered pace in the last 3 months. The market is very sluggish. Liquidity is certainly a problem and it will take months to recover," P Balendran says.

"About 25 per cent of all companies in the small and medium enterprises, have already become 'non-performing assests (NPAs).' As the crisis worsens, 50 per cent of SMEs in the auto sector will end up as NPAs," says Anil Bhardwaj.

The FISME has said that these trying times should be converted into an opportunity to create a lean and powerful economy with sustainable growth.

In its memorandum to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the association has sought several relief measures, including a moratorium on repayment and the allowing of corporate debt restructuring for all unit.

The association has also demanded that wrking capital limits of enterprises must be enhanced liberally and specific steps be taken to ensure timely payment to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) against supplies made to corporates.

A big push is needed for exposing SMEs to exports. Currently, 0.5 per cent of SMEs are engaged in exports and yet contribute to about 50 per cent of the exports.

There is a critical need to look beyond Export Promotion Councils and leverage resources of private organisations and associations focusing SMEs, the FISME has said.

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Manu A B in Mumbai

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