DETROIT -- Rising production in North America has forced automakers to collaborate more closely with their suppliers. And suppliers, in turn, are reaching outside the auto industry to get help.
Four senior executives from Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co., Visteon Corp. and Robert Bosch GmbH offered examples during a panel discussion today at the Automotive News World Congress.
Scott Kunselman, Chrysler Group's chief purchaser, says teams of Chrysler engineers are working closely with ten suppliers to improve their productivity. Chrysler is using Fiat's "World Class Manufacturing" system, which the Italian automaker introduced to Chrysler in 2009.
"It's very clear. We have demand that we can't fulfill," Kunselman said after the panel discussion. "We have become actively involved in the suppliers' processes."
"Involved" might be a diplomatic description. Kunselman's boss, CEO Sergio Marchionne, complained about Chrysler's production bottlenecks in an interview with Automotive News earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Ford is collaborating more closely with suppliers through its Aligned Business Framework program. Ford rewards companies that qualify for the program with global contracts.
Birgit Behrendt, Ford's executive director of global programs, said that suppliers in the program accounted for 65 percent of Ford's total purchasing budget last year. By working with a relatively small group of global suppliers, Ford can improve efficiency.
For example, the automaker's C platform, which underpins the Ford Focus, has spawned ten different models worldwide, Behrendt noted. Global suppliers account for 75 percent of the parts used in the Focus, she noted.
Ford also is getting results from its technology reviews, in which a team of senior Ford executives spend a day or two with one supplier to study its latest technology. The automaker holds about ten such meetings each year.
Ford's no-hands liftgate, lane-departure assist and active-parking assist all stemmed from these technical reviews, Behrendt said.
To speed up product development, suppliers are looking for help outside the auto industry.
At the CES show in Las Vegas, Visteon displayed a cockpit concept that showed how a variety of technologies could be integrated into a small, B-segment car interior. The cockpit was created with the aid of designers with consumer electronics backgrounds, said Visteon CEO Tim Leuliette.
"A lot of our people come from outside the industry," Leuliette said. "We have to have people who are used to a different tempo, because the industry is moving at lightning speed."