Wrestling over control of the supply chain created friction between suppliers and OEMs, which boiled over when the pandemic sparked a supply chain crisis. Suppliers bore most of the pain, but it also gave them more negotiating power with customers.
Now, the transition to EVs provides new opportunity for suppliers, particularly large Tier 1s that are either insulated from the EV shift — such as seat makers — or those that have strong engineering capabilities and can adapt quickly, Barrott said.
"The emphasis that we've seen mainly on the bigger suppliers is that they've been encouraged by the OEMs to bring in more of a complete solution, more of a design aspect to the component," he said. "The OEM is less interested in maintaining complete control over a lot of these aspects."
Del Grosso will gladly take that work off their hands. Pacing for $15 billion in revenue this year, Adient is among the world's largest auto suppliers. It has invested significantly in research and development in recent years, evidenced by the newly renovated, 365,000-square-foot Plymouth Technical Center, which serves as the supplier's North American base. The company has 3,000 engineers globally working on seating design.
Adient and other suppliers, including competitors Lear Corp. and Magna International, are aiming to position themselves as cutting-edge designers and tech companies instead of merely just manufacturers. Even for parts as primitive as seats, those companies are looking for an edge with sleeker design, thermal comfort and more environmentally sustainable material — aspects automakers are now happy to outsource, Barrott said.
"They just don't have the capacity to manage all aspects of the vehicle," Del Grosso said. "Some of our customers have gone fully back and said no, I'm just going to source you the complete system. You'll present us how you're going to source the subcomponents, but I'm ultimately going to leave that decision to you."
The seating CEO said its customers around the world, including in North America, have either adopted that strategy or are warming up to it.
Crain's reached out to Stellantis NV, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. for comment.
"We just move faster than when the customer is trying to navigate all of that," Del Grosso added. "It just shorts up that decision-making tree, and it allows us to get things done quicker for them."