DETROIT — The purchasing directors of three major automakers essentially told suppliers to show them the savings before making integrated, molded interiors.
A generally pleasant panel discussion about the changing role of auto suppliers to support global production swings turned a bit contentious Jan. 13 during the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. The battleground: a question about the construction of integrated interior systems, commonly known as cockpit modules.
The answers showed that automakers are unwilling to cede too much control to top suppliers.
The systems — which can include all sections of an interior molded and assembled in one piece — have been a recent rallying cry of large suppliers such as Southfield, Mich.-based Lear Corp. and Plymouth, Mich.-based Johnson Controls Inc. Those companies have said they can ship assembled, complete interiors to automakers faster and more cheaply than if the pieces are made and assembled separately.
That claim drew some raised eyebrows from those on the automaker's panel. Bruno Dehler, manager of supplier support and strategy for BMW of North America Inc., questioned how a supplier could manage to assemble the diverse parts and still cut costs.
``There are limitations in the ability of a company to manage complexity,'' said Dehler, based in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. ``We've got to be able to maintain efficiency, even when we have 12 different interiors [for one car] going to different parts of the globe. That's an issue, and we'd want to minimize risk by working with different suppliers.''
``I'm in total disagreement,'' said Robert Rossiter, president of Lear international operations. ``There is so much complexity in the interior because companies are working with so many interior suppliers.''
Executives from Detroit-based General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. of Auburn Hills, Mich., also were skeptical of cockpit production. Harold Kutner, GM's vice president for worldwide purchasing, wondered whether a Tier 1 supplier is best-suited to select a coterie of companies to build an interior.
Currently, automakers typically select suppliers to work on various parts of an interior.
``Sometimes, the best technology and systems are not created at the Tier 1 level,'' Kutner said. ``Our biggest concern from not being involved is that a Tier 1 company might not have the technology or the management skills to handle a cockpit.''
In addition, the technology to make a complete interior still is evolving, said Jonathan Maples, Chrysler's new executive director of supplier management. Maples said companies still must perfect technologies to match colors between different parts.
Other burning issues discussed by the panel included the parsing of warranty costs between automaker and supplier and the sourcing of parts globally. On the former, Kutner said the world's largest automaker is considering ways to share responsibility for warranty claims with its suppliers.
GM is beginning to target the origin of parts defects to determine how much responsibility GM can place on a supplier, Kutner said. The company plans to reward suppliers that make parts with few defects with future contracts, he said.
Maples said it can be difficult to identify the supplier culpable for warranty problems. Rossiter drove the middle ground by adding that it is up to the supplier to negotiate warranty cost decisions with automakers.