Coronavirus, auto trends are hot topics at VAGTC auto suppliers symposium

Mike Wall '94, executive director of automotive analysis at IHS Markit.
Mike Wall '94, executive director of automotive analysis at IHS Markit.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney
Christine Sitek, executive director of global purchasing and supply chain for General Motors.
Christine Sitek, executive director of global purchasing and supply chain for General Motors.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney
Kevin Wickering, director of materials and logistics for Shape Corp.
Kevin Wickering, director of materials and logistics for Shape Corp.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney
Tom Single, chief engineer for global material cost at Ford Motor Company.
Tom Single, chief engineer for global material cost at Ford Motor Company.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney
Sonja Johnson, executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center.
Sonja Johnson, executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center.
Image Credit: Rachael Mooney

The effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus) were discussed by leaders from all tiers of the auto industry during the 21st West Michigan Automotive Suppliers Symposium March 5, sponsored by the Van Andel Global Trade Center.

The event was held in Loosemore Auditorium in the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus, with the theme, "Finding Opportunity in the Uncertainty."

Kevin Wickering, director of materials and logistics for Shape Corp., said outside of Wuhan, China, most plants are up and running at 50 percent or more.

He said the Chinese New Year filled the supply chain pipeline prior to the virus outbreak, but that supply has now arrived at plants in the U.S.

"The holes in the supply chain are about to become evident now that there is very little on vessels," said Wickering. "Supply chains utilizing air shipping as their primary mode of transport ran out weeks ago. These are the supply chains that have been the most affected to this point."

Christine Sitek, executive director of global purchasing and supply chain for General Motors, said the coronavirus has been all-consuming.

"We have deep roots in China and South Korea with many partnerships, so safety is our first concern," said Sitek. "Our workers in those countries have found creative ways to get their work done, including working from home."

Mike Wall '94, executive director of automotive analysis at IHS Markit, said a rough 2019 for light vehicle production in China was followed by the outbreak of the coronavirus. He said, so far, North American plants have not been affected, but the next few weeks will be critical. 

In his outlook for the automotive industry, Wall said consumers are moving away from buying cars in favor of light trucks. "They like the ride height, flexibility and cargo-moving capability of these light trucks," Wall said.

Tom Single, chief engineer for global material cost at Ford Motor Company, said an increase in the number of small companies is pushing manufacturers to make vehicles more tech-friendly.

"Younger drivers have different values," said Single. "'What does it look like?' 'How much fuel does it use?' And, more importantly, 'Can I sync my technology?'"

Sitek stressed the importance of gender-diverse leadership, challenging suppliers to purposely create diverse teams.

"I'm sure you've read about or heard that gender-diverse teams and inclusive teams deliver better business results and return on investment," she said.

Plante Moran was the title sponsor of the event. Other sponsors include Chase Bank, Warner Norcross + Judd; IHS Markit; Morrison Industrial Equipment; Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC); The Right Place; The Comedy Project; Artiflex; ADAC Automotive; Michigan Automotive Accelerator; Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center.

More information, visit www.vagtc.org or call (616) 331-6811.