Like automakers, we at WAW have discovered the advantages of outsourcing.

Our 22nd annual engineering survey comes to you courtesy of our corporate sibling, the Planning and Research department of Intertec Publishing, our parent company.

For years, we have tried to conduct the annual engineering and supplier (July issue) surveys on our own by sending out a few thousand questionnaires to randomly selected readers and tabulating the results. The number of respondents always varied widely from year to year.

As a result, our surveys were not as scientific as we would have liked. They were anecdotal opinion polls that turned up some interesting nuggets but nonetheless were incomplete. We knew we needed to do a better job of "adding value," to borrow an industry term.

We couldn't say these findings were indicative of the industry at large.

Now we can. We built the OEM sample group based on North American light vehicle production market shares. For instance, General Motors Corp. engineers got 33% of the surveys, Ford Motor Co. engineers got 26%, and DaimlerChrysler Corp. engineers got 18%.

We made concerted efforts to represent transplant automakers such as Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (6%), Toyota Motor Corp. (4%), Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (3%) and Volkswagen AG (2%). In the past, these companies were often underrepresented because a random selection of WAW readers inevitably would turn up a greater proportion of Big Three employees. It just wasn't fair.

In the finished survey, the proportion of respondents closely matched the market shares used in building the sample.

Likewise, the sample of supplier engineers also has become more democratic. A random selection of supplier readers always turned up a disproportionately large number of employees at Delphi Automotive Systems, the former GM partsmaker, and, to a lesser extent, Visteon Automotive Systems, soon to be spun off from Ford. Nothing against Delphi and Visteon, but we made sure that those companies were not overrepresented in this year's survey. With thousands of suppliers in North America, we want to hear from as many as possible.

Intertec Planning and Research sent out surveys to 2,400 domestic subscribers of WAW in October, and we ended up with 469 usable surveys - 256 from OEM engineers and 213 from the supplier side of the aisle.

We hope all of our future surveys will be conducted in this fashion - by a firm with expertise in survey research. We're journalists, not pollsters. Like the industry we cover, we're always looking for ways to improve the product.

Think of it as a kaizen for WAW.