For the first time, Ward’s Supplier Survey was conducted entirely online, as electronic questionnaires were sent to Ward’s readers this past spring.

In previous years, the survey was done via traditional mail, and participants filled them in by hand and wrote additional comments on the forms.

Switching to an electronic format yielded the highest level of participation yet for the survey, now in its 29th year. Nearly 700 people responded, including 447 supplier employees (65%) and 247 auto maker employees (35%).

Respondents also were extremely forthcoming in sharing comments about the subject matter. With the popularity of e-mail and the ubiquitous nature of computers, in general, people clearly have become comfortable bearing their souls at the keyboard.

The Penton Custom Research Department, a corporate sibling to Ward’s, conducted the survey between May 9 and June 4.

Penton Research selected the original sample from among Ward’s readers and targeted the following job titles: corporate management, engineering, design, quality, testing, manufacturing and purchasing.

Responses were weighted to prevent an overwhelming number of employees from a few big companies from carrying undue influence, potentially clouding the results.

For instance, General Motors Corp. produced 28.5% of the vehicles in North America in 2006, according to Ward’s data, so GM employees make up 28.5% of the OEM sample.

The same is true for employees from Ford Motor Co. (18.2%), Chrysler Group (16.1%), Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (9.1%), Toyota Motor Corp. (7.8%), Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (7.5%) and other auto makers (12.8%).

The supplier sample was constructed in a similar fashion. No single parts maker comprises more than 2% of the supplier sample. All combined, the world’s top 10 suppliers make up about 18% of the sample.

Basing the sample on North American OEM production market shares and ensuring diverse supplier responses allows for the survey to accurately reflect the industry at large.