DETROIT-An innovative plastic engine manifold, a prize winner a year ago, is now an expensive headache for General Motors Corp. and the part's supplier. In November and December, Detroit-based GM said, it slashed production of the Aurora due to shortages of the manifold for the Northstar family of engines.Oldsmobile and Cadillac were spared a worse problem by slow sales of the luxury cars.
The shortage shows how the part's supplier, Auttocom, underestimated complex technology in a drive for new business. But GM shares much of the blame, said two sources directly involved in the situation. GM squeezed low prices out of Auttocom, preventing it from investing adequately and buying back-up machinery, they said.
``You can be lean to the point of being anorexic,'' one of the sources said.
Auttocom of Manchester, N.H., is a joint venture between Freudenberg NOK of Plymouth, Mich., and Mecaplast of Monaco. Auttocom, which uses the lost-core method to make the complex manifold from nylon, began making the manifold for some Northstar engines in 1994.
In 1994 the manifold won the top prize in the annual auto-motive parts contest held by the Society of Plastics Engineers in Detroit.
The two sources said Aut-tocom knew a production crunch was coming and worked hard to speed up the process. In a written statement last week to Automotive News, a sister publication of Plastics News, Freudenberg NOK said: ``We did whatever it took to make the customer happy, which included investing millions of dollars, as well as devoting endless hours to make upgrades and resolve problems.''