The purchase of Opel by Magna shows the strength of contract manufacturers and their strategies, which I discussed with Xosé H. Vázquez in our 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review. Once thought of as a lifebelt for the decreasing margins of large-brand owners, contract manufacturing has now become a major source of competition. Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), which learned the business by producing initially for Volkswagen and GM, has actually started to sell its own cars in Europe and North America. It has even bought R&D knowledge, acquiring from bankrupt MG Rover the drawings needed to build the Rover 25, Rover 45, and Rover 75.
The economic crisis is accelerating this process. The need to liberate assets to increase ROI has been facilitated by technological and organizational change. This is stimulating business practices at the corporate level that are pushing outsourcing practices to dangerous limits. The wrong management of contract manufacturing will thus increasingly provoke knowledge leaks to direct competitors and the loss of internal manufacturing knowledge; more importantly, it will continue to eliminate barriers to entry, allowing large distributors and contract manufacturers themselves to market their own brands much more easily.