Nissan North America's rocky relations with some dealers are well known as it presses for more U.S. growth. Now it appears the Japanese automaker also is alienating some of its parts suppliers.
According to a newly released annual survey of suppliers to the top six North American automakers, Nissan sank into a virtual last-place tie with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
By contrast, General Motors Co. — typically a cellar-dweller in factory-supplier relationships — improved significantly after vendors gave GM purchasing chief Steve Kiefer improved grades, reflecting his first year on the purchasing job after running GM Powertrain.
Planning Perspectives Inc., a Detroit-area consulting firm, based its ratings on questionnaire responses from 492 Tier 1 suppliers. John Henke is Planning Perspectives' president.
Toyota retained its top ranking, followed by Honda.
The ratings come as Nissan Motor Co. and FCA reshuffled their senior purchasing teams.
On March 25, Nissan announced that Hiroki Hasegawa would replace Rebecca Vest as vice president of North American purchasing.
And on Tuesday, May 10, FCA announced that Scott Thiele would replace Tom Finelli as chief of North American purchasing.
Both companies appear to be feeling some heat. Nissan is in the final 12-month stretch of its global Power 88 business plan to increase global operating profits. And FCA has consistently lagged other automakers in annual surveys of supplier relations.
Separately, FCA slipped from fifth to seventh place among major automakers in the most recent biennial North American Suppliers' Choice Study by Deloitte and Automotive News. Automotive News is a sister publication of Plastics News.
Nissan suppliers are unhappy about a year-old campaign there to slash component prices, Henke says of his findings. "Things are decidedly getting worse."
Nissan issued a written statement asserting that it will analyze the survey's results.
"Suppliers continue to play an important role in Nissan North America's growth where we have achieved record sales and production," the company said.
By contrast, GM's purchasing team "has been working their butts off, trying to improve," Henke said of the automaker's move in the opposite direction on the survey.
GM's relations with suppliers hit a recent low point in 2013, when the automaker revised its standard terms-and-conditions contract for suppliers.
Suppliers believed the contract granted GM far broader authority to recover warranty and safety recall costs. After the ensuing uproar, GM rewrote its standard contract.
Kiefer, a former Delphi executive, subsequently carried out a new program, dubbed One Cost Model, which forgoes traditional bidding. He also offered extended contracts to key suppliers of pickup components.
Indeed, the booming environment of North America's auto industry appears to be putting widespread strain on supplier attitudes.
This year's index does not give any of the six automakers a "good" rating — not even Toyota. Both Toyota and Honda scored worse among their suppliers this year than last.
Besides GM, the only company that improved its rating was Ford, whose overall index score rose modestly. Hau Thai-Tang, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president of global purchasing, previously was the lowest-rated of the six top purchasers in the survey.
This year he moved up to fourth, ahead of his peers at Nissan and FCA.
Ford issued a statement noting that its improved rating "demonstrates our commitment to strengthening our relationship with our supplier partners."
Despite GM's improvement, Henke's index still rates the company at the very bottom edge of its "adequate" grade range, a numerical score based on supplier survey responses.
Other consultants share Henke's skepticism about the industry's ability to change.
"The automakers are pushing as hard as ever for price cuts," said Melissa Anderson, president of Melissa Anderson Consulting in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"Pressure on component pricing is now just part of the fabric of the industry. It is the way business is done, and no one expects otherwise."