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Automakers Rush to Avert a Crisis

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Crisis averted? Not yet, but a solution could be on the way: A group of leading automakers and suppliers announced on Monday that they had agreed to a process to find and approve substitutes for a chemical that may soon be in short supply -- an issue that has threatened to shut down production lines around the world.

Racing toward a solution to a sudden problem
The group, which includes Ford (NYSE: F  ) , General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) , and others -- including motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson -- said that they had drafted a plan to expedite the process of testing and approving potential substitutes for PA-12, a type of nylon used in automotive brake and fuel systems, in hopes of finding a workable replacement before supplies run short.

Those supplies of PA-12 are expected to run short soon, potentially within a few weeks, after an explosion at a chemical plant in Germany led to a global shortage of a chemical needed to make the special nylon. Following the explosion, auto-industry supplier TI Automotive notified its clients that shortages of key parts were likely. Given that TI's client list includes just about every major automaker, that notification quickly made headlines around the world, as worries of production disruptions spread.

It also sparked a race to find substitutes -- and a move by key players to coordinate the industry's response. Last Tuesday, representatives of automakers, suppliers, and chemical firms met near Detroit to hash out a plan and begin the search for materials that could be used in place of PA-12.

That group is set to meet again next week. Meanwhile, analysts are trying to figure out who -- if anyone -- is most likely to be affected by the shortage.

Will European automakers be hit first?
In a note released last Friday, a Credit Suisse Group analyst suggested that European automakers like BMW and Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, were most likely to be affected by shortages, according to Bloomberg. The analyst, Chris Ceraso, argued that European industrial concerns keep thinner inventories than their U.S. counterparts, who may still have several weeks' supply of affected parts on hand.

Another analyst, Joe Langley of Michigan-based industry-watchers LMC Automotive, suggested that Hyundai and Kiamay also be at risk as a result of their lean inventory practices. And UBS analysts still saw a "high risk of production stoppages in the second quarter" as of late last week.

Meanwhile, DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) and other chemical producers said they expected additional demand for PA-12 substitutes from automakers and would work to accommodate the industry's needs. And automakers continued to point out that so far, they aren't experiencing shortages and haven't made changes to their production plans.

Shareholders should still hold tight
So what's the upshot for investors in these companies? I still think the best strategy is to hold tight: Even if an automaker's production lines are slowed or halted as a result of this shortage -- something that looks a little less likely today than it did late last week -- that lost production will be temporary, and almost certainly made up in time.

Likewise, absent any new problems, any impact to an automaker's stock seems likely to be made up in time. Keep that in mind if your company is affected, and if there's a big price drop, consider taking advantage by adding to your position.

PA-12 isn't the only auto-related substance in short supply. As global demand continues to rise, gas prices seem set to follow. On the flipside, the oil industry is poised to profit as the global price for gas gushes higher. To gain a better understanding of investing in a volatile energy market, check out The Motley Fool's new special report, "The Only Energy Stock You'll Ever Need." It's completely free for Fool readers, but only for a limited time -- so get your copy now.

Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. Follow him on Twitter at @jrosevear. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford and General Motors and have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the senior auto specialist for John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

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