BESSEMER, ALA.-Mercedes-Benz AG says it wants North American suppliers to play a major role in helping the carmaker globalize and improve its efficiency. The German automaker last month invited American parts makers to deepen their involvement with Mercedes in Europe and other markets.
Mercedes officials asked the North American companies to help it reach three new goals:
Make Mercedes 30 percent more productive over the next three years.
Increase Mercedes' non-German vehicle production to 25 percent of the total by 2000, up from 5 percent this year.
Boost non-German component sourcing to 30 percent of the total by 2000, up from 20 percent today.
``The largest share in the process will clearly fall to the U.S.,'' said Jurgen Hubbert, the Mercedes-Benz board of management member in charge of passenger cars. Among suppliers worldwide, he said, ``We find those with the strongest capacities here.''
Speaking to a group of about 150 U.S., Canadian and Mexican suppliers in Bessemer last month, Hubbert said Mercedes intends to ``substantially increase'' its North American purchasing.
Mercedes bought $250 million worth of North American parts and materials last year. Hubbert would not put a dollar figure on the firm's purchasing target.
Mercedes now has about 60 companies lined up to supply its sport-utility vehicle, which will begin production in Vance, Ala., in 1997. However, Hubbert and other Mercedes officials said the automaker wants those suppliers to participate with Mercedes around the globe.
``Whoever has proven to be a successful partner at one of our plants, or in one of our projects, can become our partner in many other locations around the world,'' said Johannes Rudnitzki, head of procurement for the firm's passenger car division.
Hubbert said that Mercedes has improved its productivity by 30 percent in the past three years, and wants similar gains in the next three years.
But the company stopped short of establishing a U.S. procurement office for Mercedes' worldwide operations. A number of Japanese automakers - notably Toyota Motor Corp. - have established such operations in recent years.
Mercedes officials said that will be a logical next step.
``This is our starting point,'' said Andreas Renschler, president of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., the Alabama firm.
Meanwhile, Mercedes officials said North American suppliers will be channeled informally to overseas projects. The executives said prospective Mercedes suppliers could call the Alabama project; the company's U.S. sales firm, Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc.; the Freightliner Corp. heavy-duty truck subsidiary; or Mercedes offices in Stuttgart, Germany.