The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

By Ian Wyatt

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Evidence is mounting that the auto industry is springing back to life.

The auto industry worldwide is on the mend, signaling an opportunity for investors to become reacquainted with big vehicle makers and some of the smaller parts suppliers.

The days of the profit machines of General Motors ( GM) and Ford ( F) cranking out generous earnings and dividends may be over.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't solid dividend-paying stocks in the auto sector.

I recently explored an index that tracks the parts suppliers, the Dow Jones U.S. Auto Parts Index.

As you can see in following chart, this group of stocks has been on quite a tear since September.

One of the six stocks in this index is Gentex ( GNTX), a company with a $4.3 billion market cap that's paying a 1.4 percent dividend right now. The company is pushing the small-cap limit, but with analysts projecting revenue and earnings per share growth over 20 percent in the coming year, it's a great growth prospect, with a value component as well.

Gentex makes electro-optical products, including auto-dimming rearview mirrors that minimize nighttime glare. The company's share price increased 69 percent in 2010, outperforming the DJ Auto Parts Index, which gained 56 percent.

The company's sales increased 50 percent and net income more than doubled in 2010, leading Gentex to raise its dividend by 9 percent, to $0.48 cents annually. Unlike many pre-recession dividend payers, Gentex stayed the course by paying dividends without interruption.

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