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The European Automotive Industry


In this chapter we shall seek to quantify, some of the factors we have discussed earlier in the report. For this we shall use the consolidated annual reports of Ford, GM, BMW and Volkswagen. Unfortunately the annual reports of Fiat and Renault has not been available.

It should be stressed that this is not a financial statement analysis in the traditional sense, and hence the objective is not to evaluate the performance of these companies. The purpo-se is merely to examine some of the factors we have discussed earlier in the report.

Obviously there is a number of limitations in using the companies annual reports for em-pirical data. These are discussed below.

First of all there are differences in the amount of information given in the annual reports. Thus it is not possible to examine all factors for all companies. Further the companies are registered in three different countries, and are thus subject to different accounting rules. For example is it likely, that the companies follow different rules for consolidation of re-ports from subsidiaries. Another example is rules for the period over which assets can be depreciated.

Another problem is that book value does not always represent actual value of an asset. This is a problem when using depreciations in value added calculations. However it is impossible to evaluate the real annual cost of using these assets, as it would require, both an actual value of the asset, as well as an exact measure for expected lifetime of the asset. Hence we shall use depreciations as an estimate.

Thirdly it is often difficult to separate different business areas. In our analysis below we have attempted to separate the automotive business from the other business area of the companies, to the extent allowed by the data in the annual reports.

Finally we face the problem, that we only have the needed data for one year. Thus the cyclical nature of business in the car industry may affect the results of the analysis. This is a problem in the value-added analysis, in the case where a firm has faced low sales in a year. In such a situation sales are lower than usual, but value added expenses like depreci-ation is unchanged, and thus value added will seem higher than it actually is. The same problem arises in the analysis of fixed costs, where fixed cost ratio will be higher in years with low sales.

All in all using financial statements are not an exact measure, and thus there is some inse-curity linked to the analysis. However, the analysis will give us a general idea of the ma-nufacturers situation with respect to different industry features.

As discussed in chapter 3 vertical integration on the supply side is likely to occur as a consequence of highly specialised assets. We shall now measure the amount of vertical integration in the 5 companies in question.

One way to measure the amount of vertical integration is through a value added to sales ratio. Firms that have a very high ratio of value added to sales, add a lot of value internal-ly, and are thus vertically integrated. Value added is in this respect defined as the amount of capital and labour, that a firm has used to produce its output . Thus we shall calculate value added as labour cost, depreciation and net income as a percentage of sales.

The table below shows these figures for the 5 companies in question.

Table 7.1
Source: Annual reports and SEC filings

From the table it appears that BMW and PSA are much less vertically integrated than Ford and Volkswagen. However, in all 4 cases the figure shows the importance of subcontracting in the car industry. If only between 25% and 40 % of total value is added internally, the rest is added through suppliers. Thus little changes in supply prices can have dramatic effect for the car manufacturers.

Another interesting aspect of the value added analysis, is that Japanese manufacturers add significant less value as a ratio to sales, compared to European manufacturers . Conse-quently Japanese manufacturers must be less vertically integrated than the European firms. This probably has to do with the special structure of Japanese industry, where firms are closely linked in a Keiretsu system. This system poses an alternative to vertical inte-gration for avoiding the transaction costs connected to specialised assets.

Fixed costs have been discussed both in chapter 3 and 4. A high amount of fixed costs, allow relatively low marginal costs. Thus high fixed costs can sometimes be an incentive for price cutting as firms struggle to increase sales to cover their high fixed costs. Further we have argued in chapter 4 that demand changes, can have severe effects on companies that are not geared with an appropriate fixed to variable cost ratio.

It is difficult to find a good measure for fixed costs relative to valuable costs. The prob-lem is that fixed costs are usually related to assets, which cannot be distributed accurately across several years, unless we know the exact lifetime of every asset. Instead we can use depreciations as an estimate for fixed costs.

Table 7.2
Source: Annual Reports

This percentage may seem rather small for an industry that is usually perceived as having high fixed costs. However one must keep in mind, that the percentage is calculated rela-tive to total costs of sales, and not relative to value added. Thus this percentage would be much larger if calculated only for the manufacturer, in didn't include costs of supplies and raw materials. Thus fixed costs are very important in the automotive industry, but depreciations are still much smaller than labour costs.

Another way to measure fixed against variable costs would be by comparing the value of production plants to the amount of workers. Such an analysis assumes that workers are relatively variable, while capital is fixed. It does not take variable costs like materials into account. In the table below we have conducted the analysis. Value of plants has been de-fined as historical costs of land, buildings, equipment and machinery. This equals book value plus accumulated depreciations and adjustments.

Table 7.3
Source: Annual reports and SEC filings


As we can see Table 7.2 and 7.3 are closely correlated, with respect to the relative posi-tion of the companies. This suggests that in spite of their limitations, our measures are not completely off.

It is clear, that BMW has the highest fixed costs, followed by PSA. Volkswagen and es-pecially Ford have significantly lower costs. As we have argued in section 4.2, it is un-fortunate to have high fixed costs in a low growth market. Further we have argued, that there is little chance of booming demand in the European market. However, the cost ra-tios above are calculated for the world as a whole, so it is not significant, whether growth in Europe alone is stagnating. We shall not discuss world automotive outlook in this re-port, and thus we will not consider, which of the manufacturers are best positioned for the future, with respect to cost structures.

One important implication of high fixed costs is that it may lead to price cutting (As ar-gued in section 3.2.3). Hence initiation of price reductions, that may lead to price wars, are more likely to come from BMW or PSA. Therefore other members of their strategic groups should watch these two closely.

Only Ford, GM and Volkswagen provide data regarding R&D and marketing. These are shown in the table below.

Table 7.4
Source: Annual Reports


The figure demonstrates the vast amount of R&D that is used in the industry. We have already discussed the effect of marketing and R&D in section 3.5.2 and 3.5.3, where we have also argued, that a reason for these heavy investments in R&D, is the special structu-re in the automotive industry.

In this section we have analysed Ford, GM, BMW, PSA and Volkswagen with respect to vertical integration, cost structure, R&D and marketing.

Our analysis shows, that the companies add between 25 and 37 percent of value, relative to cost of sales. This shows, that supplier relations are still very important, as more than half of the vehicles total value is contained in supplies. Further this analysis revealed, that costs related to labour, far exceeded costs related to plants (depreciations).

Further we have discussed fixed costs. This analysis has demonstrated the enormous amount of capital required among the large players in the industry. Further we have shown, that there are large differences in capital to labour ratios among firms. This may lead some firms to cut prices.
Finally we have quantified R&D and marketing where possible.

Nadarasa Subramaniam 1999, Copyright , All rights reserved.