It's the unexpected findings that make surveys an exercise truly worth doing, rather than one of mere validation.

If you enter into it simply to confirm what you already know, what's the point? Look at it with eyes wide open and some intriguing nuggets are sure to present themselves.

With that in mind, WAW conducts its 21st annual supplier survey and in the process gains valuable insight from more than 250 supplier and OEM readers who responded.

The hot topic for most participants was modularity, whereby automakers hand responsibility to lower-wage suppliers for designing and producing larger chunks of the vehicle. Participants had more to say about this topic than any other on our survey, even though General Motors Corp. won't touch it publicly because of the implications for this year's United Auto Workers union negotiations, now under way (see related story, p.32).

For instance, we asked if suppliers should be forced to accept union representation at these modular plants, such as GM's formerly-code-named Yellowstone Project. Two-thirds of OEM respondents say module suppliers should not be forced to accept unions, but 23.4% say they should, and they state some compelling reasons why.

"Probably this is the cost of peace with the UAW," writes one manufacturing engineer at GM Truck Group.

"The UAW will not concede this," writes Thuy Arndt, a factory technician at Ford Motor Co.'s Claycomo, MO, assembly plant.

"The UAW is responsible for many benefits welcomed and shared by all. Let's not forget," says Rosie Miller, quality assurance manager at DaimlerChrysler Corp.

"Autos are so expensive that people who build parts for the industry should be able to buy the finished product," writes Jim Underwood, tool and die maker at GM Powertrain.

Likewise, OEM participants state some good reasons why forcing a supplier plant to unionize is just plain wrong.

"The workers should be allowed to determine if they want to be represented by the UAW," writes R.J. Buccellato, power-train product engineer at Ford. "The unions drove the auto industry to go modular," writes an engineering manager at GM.

"The union is out of order and should be disbanded," says another OEM participant. "The child should not be allowed to tell the parent what to do!"

"Let the suppliers run their own businesses as they see fit to do so," writes Gary Lauinger, senior project engineer at GM's Allison Transmission division.

"No one should be forced to join a union," writes an engineering manager at Ford.

"Do you want your customers to tell you how to print your magazine and who sets the type?" says a GM project engineer. Ohhh, now we get the picture.

Similarly, we asked supplier respondents if union representation would make their companies less likely to participate in a modular assembly program, and 44.9% say it would, 29.8% say it would not and 25.3% say they are unsure. Interestingly, OEM respondents had a lot more written comments about modularity than did supplier participants.

"No UAW here, no way," writes an engineering program manager at a supplier in Grand Rapids, MI.

"Why unite with any organization and lose your individuality to run and control your destiny?" says James LaBold, president of LaBold Corp. of Columbus, IN.

"UAW representation has only increased the cost of our final product. The inability of UAW shops to work effectively will only cause undue cost increases," writes a Delphi Chassis Systems engineer.

"The UAW supports people who don't work and want more pay/benefits," writes one undecided Delphi Automotive Systems employee.