Call them the Godfathers.
Each year, Harold Kutner, Tom Stallkamp and Carlos Mazzorin spend a combined $160 billion to buy auto parts.
As the top purchasers for General Motors, Chrysler Corp. and Ford Motor Co., they can make or break entire companies - if not industries.
Among suppliers, Stallkamp is widely viewed as the favorite, the man who created a model partnership with parts makers. Defenders of Kutner and Mazzorin note that GM and Ford have much bigger ships to turn around, and crisis allows no time for getting cozy. No matter what the tactics, each of the Big 3 purchasers is pushing suppliers for more. The struggles for lower cost, better quality and quicker delivery are far from over.
In separate interviews, Stallkamp, Kutner and Mazzorin revealed as many similarities as differences.
Witness their stand on these issues:
Supplier shakeout - The automakers are moderating their drive to reduce the number of Tier 1 suppliers. Chrysler expects to sit tight after it cuts down to 600. But Ford and GM are adding suppliers as they expand in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe.
Mergers - None of the chiefs claims to veto suppliers' proposed mergers. But like any Godfather, their blessing is advisable.
Quality - Ford has gotten hard-nosed. Suppliers that ship shoddy parts get put on probation. If they don't improve, they lose their contracts.
GM has launched a quick-response program to eliminate warranty defects. Suppliers have 90 days to identify and solve the problem. If they can't fix it, they pay the cost of warranty repairs.
In a test, Chrysler has given 14 suppliers online computer access to dealers' warranty repair data. If the suppliers solve a quality problem, they get credit for it under the SCORE cost-cutting program.
Competitive bidding - Ford and Chrysler downplay competitive bidding. Suppliers tend to keep their business as long as they deliver on quality and price. GM still promotes competitive bidding to cut costs.
Cost-cutting - Ford and GM demand annual price cuts. Chrysler starts with a price freeze, then asks suppliers to cut costs by redesigning parts. The automakers are getting their way; for the first time in its history, Ford's material purchases declined in 1996.