Bosch, which just released new parking technology, remains the world's biggest supplier (Photo: Bosch)

Automotive suppliers are in the midst of a strategic reorientation marked by high investment and stepped-up merger and acquisition activity, according to a new study by Berylls.

In 2015, companies especially targeted emissions technologies, autonomous driving systems and alternative powertrains, the strategy consultants said

Merger and acquisitions examples cited include Robert Bosch's battery technology startup SEEO and the company's takeover of ZF's steering business. ZF, meanwhile, took over TRW Automotive, Magna acquired transmissions specialist Getrag and Mahle bought Delphi's thermal division.

The Berylls study said global suppliers boosted overall sales 13 pc in 2015 to 788.7 billion euros. It was the largest annual increase since 2010.

Bosch continued to be the world's largest automotive supplier, with sales to car companies totaling 41.7 billion euros in 2015. It was followed by Continental with 39.2 billion euros, Denso with 34.3 billion euros and Magna with 29.4 billion euros in 2015 automotive sales.

Next to big investments in innovation, suppliers had to manage continuing growth in the number of models built by carmakers and big global plant investments, especially in China, Mexico and eastern Europe.

Suppliers posted slightly higher operating income in 2015, with the EBIT operating profit margin rising 0.2 percentage points to 8.3 pc in 2015. Almost 80 pc of suppliers that release earnings statements managed to post higher profits in 2015, Berylls said.

The strategy consultants were relatively optimistic about prospects for 2016. "Despite a normalization of the Chinese market, we assume a positive development this year as well," Berylls analyst Tobias Keil said in a press statement.

Keil projected revenue growth of between 5 pc and 10 pc, at least in part because of continuing corporate takeover activity. Said the analyst: "It appears that there's hardly any company among the top 100 that isn't working on a transaction."