With emotions laid bare and fiery words exchanged, the discord between carmaker and supplier came to a head last month in Canada.
An amazing event started at a ho-hum dinner meeting during Canada's Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association conference in Hamilton, Ontario. Before it ended, a major supplier had denounced automakers as back-alley bullies, and a top Chrysler Corp. executive tossed his canned speech to deliver a mea culpa acknowledging past, thuglike tactics.
The hook was baited in an address from Joseph Gorman, the slight, bespectacled chairman of Cleveland-based auto supplier TRW Inc. In his speech, the TRW chief surprised the carmaking audience by launching into a tirade about deteriorating ties between suppliers and auto companies.
``Relationships with OEMs have to change,'' Gorman said. ``We're moving down a slippery slope.''
Gorman went on to accuse the Big Three of fostering an adversarial role with suppliers, of not communicating enough to avoid design mishaps, of pushing suppliers too far and too fast to cut costs and, sometimes, to cut corners. The result, said Gorman, is North American automakers are losing market share and technology from their suppliers.
Jonathan Maples, Chrysler's executive director for supplier management, responded by tearing up his speech, which followed Gorman's. Maples said that, in a sense, Gorman was right when you look at Chrysler's history.
During the past decade, Chrysler had been called ``a group of industrial thugs,'' beating up its parts suppliers, Maples said. The firm would hold what Maples called its annual indigestion meeting.At the luncheon, former Chairman Lee Iacocca would pound the podium and ask parts producers to cut 1 percent from their purchase orders, Maples said. Or else.
Maples called it a recipe for disaster, and executives were not certain how they could control the damage.
The firm has changed, he said. The new Chrysler wants its parts makers to be profitable. It wants to work with them, not just point accusatory fingers. Ultimately, Chrysler wants to build an atmosphere of trust, affording suppliers stronger leadership, he said.
After the speeches, several parts executives said Gorman was speaking mainly of General Motors Corp. and not Chrysler. But Gorman's remarks were vague, and he was nowhere to be found, having left before Maples finished. Gorman took with him any hope of cordial, after-dinner chat between the supplier and carmaker.
So it goes in the strained world of automaker-supplier relations. World peace could occur before some of those relationships thaw.
Pryweller is a Plastics News staff reporter based in Detroit.