MADRID - Most agree that Spain's parts industry is modern, competitive and achieves high standards of quality. But is it Spanish?
The local components industry is largely international, not Spanish-owned. Still, 200,000 Spaniards work in the industry, making it one of the most important in Spain.
In 1996, sales of automotive equipment and components made in Spain reached Pta2.5 trillion ($17.4 billion), an increase of 15.6 percent over 1995 results.
About Pta1.3 trillion worth was exported, an increase of 25.2 percent. Spanish auto plants purchased Pta886 billion and Pta318 billion went to the aftermarket.
Parts imports are also rising. In 1996 they reached Pta1.8 trillion, an increase of 11.8 percent over 1995.
While the Spanish industry grows more significant in Europe, some economists worry about dependence on foreign ownership.
They say that in times of production crisis, companies usually decide to close those plants or fire workers outside their national base. They try to avoid problems with their workers at home. Renault, for example, closed its only assembly plant in Belgium rather than one of many in France.
In addition, purchasing and development decisions are made elsewhere. This limits the Spanish industry to the role of manufacturer.
So although it is a growing industry, some critics say Spain has lost ground to its competitors. It cannot develop its own products and invest in new markets.
The Union General de Trabajadores, a Spanish socialist-oriented trade union, has warned against domination by multinationals. The union says that 36 percent of the supplier companies' capital is mostly foreign-owned, 47 percent if minority investors are taken into account.
The foreign owners are 65 percent based in Europe, followed by the US and Japan.
Trade unions are not the only ones who are worried.
Some entrepreneurs also say the foreign presence is excessive. They've asked for government intervention to protect the national industry.
Of the 10 largest suppliers in Spain, only two are fully Spanish.
The link to foreign countries results in it being very sensitive to external events that sometimes have nothing to do with Spanish economic conditions.
The dependence on other firms is a consequence of history. Spanish volume car production began in 1953 with the manufacturing of some Fiat models under the Seat trademark.
At that time, most components were imported directly from Italy. There was no local parts industry. It was not unusual to see a car with the name Seat on the body and the name Fiat on the steering wheel, for example.
When Renault opened a factory in Valladolid and became the second automaker in Spain, the same thing happened. Parts were imported from France and assembled in Spain. The first models came off the assembly line with yellow headlights, which were only used in France. It was another sign of the weakness of the Spanish industry.
The arrival of the automakers began to attract parts manufacturers.
Importing parts became less profitable, and assembly plants asked for faster delivery.
The multinational component companies followed the automakers to Spain, which prevented the birth of an authentic national industry.
Spain has become the third-largest car manufacturer in Europe, though the growth has not been without difficulty.
The year 1992 was euphoric for the industry, but was followed by a plunge in car sales of 25 percent, one of the worst downturns in Europe.
Investment collapsed. In 1992, companies invested Pta17.5 billion. In 1993, they invested Pta3 billion, a decline of 83 percent. Employment fell by 11,000 jobs, and 172,000 workers lost hours.
By 1994, the necessary cutbacks had been made and the remaining companies were in better economic condition.