Automaker attacks on supplier prices continue, yet 1995 supplier sales and earnings reach record levels. One analyst credits the increasing transplant automaker assembly activity in the U.S. for the phenomenon.

Companies reporting record sales and earnings last year include Dana Corp., Eaton Corp., Gentex Corp., ITT Automotive and TRW Inc. Suppliers reporting fiscal improvements in 1995 over 1994 include Tower Automotive Inc., Arvin Industries Inc., Borg-Warner Automotive Inc. and USX Corp.

"Even with the improvements in productivity, (suppliers) are still being squeezed more this time around," says Marc Santucci, who watches the supplier industry at Elm International Inc. "The difference is that the Japanese are making more cars in the U.S. and the U.S. suppliers are selling to them."

He adds that supplier complaints about automakers trying to lower costs at the expense of vendor profit margins are valid, but that sales are so good that they offset the margins.

Part of Dana's record year can be attributed to the acquisition of 31 facilities around the world. This led to a $1 billion, 15% increase in sales over 1994. Dana's sales were $7.6 billion in 1995. Profits reached an all-time high of $288 million, a 26% jump over the previous year.

Eaton points to the record-setting pace of the North American heavy-duty truck market for its success in 1995. Eaton's sales were $6.8 billion and earnings were $399 million.

The addition of passengerside air bags on many '95 and '96 model vehicles helps boost TRW air bag sales 29% to 12.4 million units. The company's automotive sales jumped from $5.7 billion in 1994 to $6.6 billion in 1995.

ITT Automotive's sales hit $5.6 billion in '95, in part because of the full-year impact of acquiring General Motors Corp.'s actuators business.