A post-structural analysis of perceptions and experiences of continuity and change within the UK automotive supplier base
Firms acting as suppliers to the British automotive industry have a long history of so doing, with some evidencing histories that predate even the invention of the motor car. In exploring the challenges faced by the descendants of these firms in the 1990s, a review is undertaken of the bodies of literature surrounding the changes wrought through the increased globalisation of the industry; the impact of new manufacturing technologies and techniques; the rising levels of co-operation between firms; and the growing impact of the automotive 'service sector'. Moreover, an exploration is undertaken of the perceived 'realities' of the automotive industry as constructed through discourse, including the ways in which discourse effects a continual reinterpretation and re-evaluation of the historical evolution of the industry. Attention is focused on the implications of the above for the automotive supply chain, and the means for its rationalisation proposed by the major car manufacturers and their partner-suppliers. Post-structuralist approaches are introduced as part of an attempt to establish and appropriate research methodology that can explore and deconstruct the discourses surrounding 'modernity', 'supply chain rationalisation', 'flexible specialisation' and 'globalisation' within the automotive industry. Analytical research is conducted into the small- to medium-sized business that constitute the majority of the supplier base in the United Kingdom, and the findings of this research are compared with those of a similar study conducted a quarter-century ago. In this way, the relationships of these firms with their customers, suppliers, and peers are investigated, as are their perceptions of a changing marketplace and their reactions to the impact of policies such as the 'supply chain rationalisation' pursued by the major automotive manufacturers. Authoritative discourses of industry form, function, and structure are challenged, with voice being granted to the marginalised: small suppliers, 'service sector' firms, or those only partly involved in the automotive industry.