Oh great! Another survey.

Just what we all need when we get home from work is a two-page questionnaire asking us everything except our favorite color.

Sure, we'll get around to it, as soon as we dispose of the junk mail, pay the paperboy, hang up on the meddlesome telephone solicitors and boot the guy at the door asking us to sign his "save the dryer lint" petition.

Will "free time" ever mean anything again?

Despite the pressures of daily life, more than 350 WAW readers representing both automakers and suppliers took time to tell us what's on their minds as part of our 20th annual supplier survey. Respondents were chosen at random from our subscriber list.

So what if this isn't a scientific poll, conducted by some high-priced East Coast firm boasting a margin of error of plus or minus 4%. At least our survey provides a forum for people with something to say.

Well, to misquote Dr. Frasier Crane, "We're listening." And boy, did we get an earful:

Pressure from automakers to cut prices isn't letting up. Global purchasing is going fairly well. Most respondents expect a smooth computer transition into the Year 2000, but they can't say the same for their suppliers. Automaker respondents like the idea of sharing more warranty costs with suppliers more than suppliers do. Big shock there, huh?

And General Motors Corp., a villain to suppliers just a few years ago because of the slash-and-burn tactics of former purchasing chief J. Ignacio Lopez, was rated by supplier respondents as the best OEM customer to work with.

In reading through the surveys, we got the sense that filling them out was cathartic for a lot of you, a chance to vent on some nagging topics that don't seem to get nearly enough attention.

One supplier employee didn't have enough room on the questionnaire to unload his tirade.

"Lopez-isms are still alive!" he wrote, saying that trust is still problematic between automakers and suppliers. "The relationship (with OEMs) will always be adversarial. The only way this will change is if the OEMs quit treating suppliers as unpaid prostitutes."

And who was this impassioned individual? We'll never know. "Sorry, I love my job too much," he wrote.

Another unnamed supplier employee, when asked if his company will still be in the automotive business in five years, checked off "yes," then wrote one word, "unfortunately."

Many supplier respondents are disgusted with cutting prices for the OEMs, while vehicle prices skyrocket.

"We sell our product for the same price as we did 10 years ago," writes a manager at Parker Hannifin Corp. in Missouri.

"One buyer suggested we even look, for example, at the type of toilet paper used to save them money," writes a manager of a Tier 2 supplier in Michigan.

Don't despair. It isn't all gloom and doom.

Nearly two-thirds of supplier respondents say their companies are likely to add employees (compared to only 29% for automakers). And an overwhelming 92% of supplier participants say they are confident their companies will be in the automotive business five years from now.

It's a reasonable question to ask, especially when large conglomerates such as ITT, AlliedSignal and Cooper Industries contemplate getting out of automotive.

Although one supplier respondent says his company is "just thinking about exiting from automotive," the vast majority say otherwise.

"Major expansion is being planned," writes a manufacturing engineer at Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems in Ohio. "Continued demand for improved electrical connectors," writes Michael Gretchko, an engineer at FCI Automotive in Ohio.

At Tower Automotive's operations in Traverse City, MI, managers are downright giddy about the future. Ford Motor Co. is its biggest customer for stampings and assemblies such as suspension members.

So much new business is on the books that four facilities are being consolidated into a brand new building, and the number of shifts will grow from two to three.

"Toyota approached us a year ago and walked away saying, 'How much more can you take, because we'll load you to the ceiling,'" says John Gilbert, receiving inspection leader at the facility.

Still, there is some uncertainty.

"Unsure of the effect on us from the Daimler-Chrysler deal," writes Chris Collum, designer at Hilite Industries in Texas. "New joint venture still unsettling after five months," writes an engineer at Valeo Sylvania in Indiana.

On the following pages we assess WAW survey results from several distinct angles. Read on.