General Motors Corp. is continuing its goodwill push to suppliers, even if those suppliers still are suspicious about the automaker's long-term goals.
Detroit-based GM has spent the past two years trying to recover the trust it lost from intense price squeezing in the 1990s. Current GM leaders say they know the company cannot survive without real input from beyond its own walls.
``The days are long past where GM was so arrogant that we thought we knew everything, invented everything and were better at everything than everybody else in the world,'' Vice Chairman Robert Lutz said Aug. 7 at the industry's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
``Dead suppliers don't do us any good.''
Interior and exterior giants and even small component manufacturers know more about their parts than does GM, he said. They are the ones who know how the automaker can succeed.
``To our suppliers, I say: Suggest different ways of doing things if you know better ways. We will listen, I promise,'' Lutz said.
The auto industry is facing tough times, Lutz admitted, but it has done so before. Year after year, analysts proclaim an end to the North American car business, but it has not happened yet.
The one-time Big Three are redefining themselves, however, and facing an increasingly hostile business environment.
The accounting scandals that have plagued publicly traded companies have not helped the image of corporate America, noted Bill Ford, chairman and chief executive officer of Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. While those scandals have not hit the car business, there is plenty of distrust to go around.
``Californians used to write songs about T-birds and Corvettes,'' he said. ``Now they write regulations.''
The industry can blame itself, in part, for the continuing stream of emissions rules, fuel-economy regulations, safety requirements and other red tape. When questions have arisen in the past, automakers in general have wanted to shut down any discussion, rather than respond to those concerns.
Car buyers seeking good-quality small and midsize cars have turned to those produced by Japanese-owned manufacturers because they simply perform better - forcing North American-based makers to play catch-up on everything from production standards to styling.
``We can compete with the Hondas and Toyotas of the world,'' Lutz said. ``But this is where clearly matching the best Japanese brands on quality is not going to be enough to change customer perception.
``It's just going to take time. We've lost the trust of the American public. It's going to take a number of years to get the trust of the American people back. We can do it with high-integrity products that not only make a person want to buy them the first time, but operate so well that they develop that same bullet-proof reliability that the Japanese products have.''
That means excelling in areas where the automakers must rely on supplier support. Auto exteriors must have a solid color match between body panels. An instrument panel must have the right level of gloss, a nice grain, a good feel to each switch.
``It's a tactile and auditory sensation,'' Lutz said.
Automakers are changing, and there will be opportunities for suppliers along the way.
DaimlerChrysler AG, the German-American car company with offices in Stuttgart, Germany, and Auburn Hills, Mich., is looking to use common components across all of its lines, said Chrysler unit President and CEO Dieter Zetsche.
In ``volume bundling,'' for instance, the company will reduce the number of fuel pumps used across its product lines to six from 25. That will save $30 million and provide a huge opportunity for the company winning that contract.