Tower International (NYSE: TOWR) has a somewhat complicated history. Founded in 1993, the company grew quickly through acquisitions, but ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2005 because of lower profitability and increasing debt. In 2007, the company was acquired by Cerberus Capital Management, and finally, near the end of last year, the company made its initial public offering and became a publicly traded company. The new company still carries a high debt load, but its leaner operations are allowing it to rapidly pay the debt down.

What's bad for the goose is bad for the gander
Tower provides parts to automakers, so its fate is intimately tied to that of its customers, a group well-known for its problems. While Tower's customer mix is fairly diversified, and mostly concentrated in Europe, the "Detroit 3" still make up 18% of its business, and being an American company, it suffers from some of the same labor problems that caused General Motors (NYSE: GM) so much difficulty. Tower cites rising steel costs and falling sales, coupled with high labor costs for its eventual bankruptcy -- essentially, the same troubles its customers have had.

Fortunately, just as auto manufacturers like GM and Ford (NYSE: F) have emerged from the crisis as leaner, stronger companies, so have the companies that supply them. Car seat maker Lear (NYSE: LEA) also recently emerged from bankruptcy, and has improved its net margins from -7.61% to 3.38 %, while growing revenues 23%. Tower has likewise improved net margins from -12.7% annually at the time of its bankruptcy to -2.4% in the recently ended year. While revenues are down significantly since that time, they're up 22% year-over-year, reflecting the positive effects of the blossoming auto recovery. Notably, in just the last quarter, Tower has paid down 13% of its long-term debt, a full $65 million.

With a low interest coverage ratio of 0.73, Tower still has a tough road ahead. But the company is focused on getting its debt to manageable levels, and the all-new management team seems to have made progress toward that goal. This is definitely one to put on your watchlist to keep an eye on how this story unfolds. Click here to put Tower International on your free, personalized Motley Fool watchlist.

Fool contributor Jacob Roche holds no position in any of the stocks mentioned. General Motors is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Ford Motor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.