General Motors, in a groundbreaking move, has tapped a supplier to oversee the development of the interior for the next Cadillac Catera.
Magna International Inc. of Markham, Ontario, will be a program manager for the car, which goes on sale in 2002. GM will let Magna handle engineering details with a minimum of interference.
'GM told Magna that they were on their own, said a supplier who asked not to be named. 'This is a real change.'
GM has had a reputation for exercising stringent corporate control, and has been reluctant to grant suppliers much responsibility. Now, GM has given a big supplier more authority over vehicle design. The move fits an industry trend that has seen suppliers oversee bigger and bigger chunks of a vehicle.
'We recognize that we can't be experts on everything, and we have to let the suppliers do more,' Harold Kutner, GM's vice president for worldwide purchasing, said in an interview last month.
'If you want a harmonious interior - where all the parts have the same grain and the same matching colors - you need to have one supplier take total responsibility.'
PART OF RWD PUSH
In the interview, Kutner did not reveal which future vehicles would have suppliers as program managers. A GM spokesman last week declined to discuss Magna's role in the Catera program.
But industry sources confirm that Magna will produce the Catera's headliner, door panels and instrument panel, while coordinating GM's other interior suppliers. Lear Corp. will make the seats, and Magee Rieter Automotive will produce the carpeting.
Currently, the Catera is built by Adam Opel AG in Germany and imported to the United States. The next version will be assembled in the United States. GM has not announced which plant will produce it.
The next Catera will be significant for GM because it will be part of a new generation of rear-drive vehicles aimed at the global luxury market. Magna hopes to win contracts for those other models, some of which will be aimed at European customers.
The Catera could represent a groundbreaking program for suppliers, too, in view of GM's newfound willingness to share control.
Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. have been more willing than GM to let suppliers design entire interior 'chunks,' such as the instrument panel, headliner, seats and door panels.
For example, Chrysler let the Becker Group coordinate the interior development of the Plymouth Prowler, and Ford has asked Magna to coordinate work on a future sport-utility. Now, GM is emulating its Big 3 rivals.
NEW THINKING AT GM
Other major changes may be in store. One supplier speculates that GM may have to downplay its traditional reliance on competitive bidding. The practice enables GM to get low prices for parts, but it hampers efforts to form long-term bonds with suppliers.
In recent years, Ford and Chrysler have backed away from competitive bidding. They prefer to negotiate cost targets for future vehicles with their suppliers.
The Catera program 'will require new thinking from GM,' a source said. 'If this is going to work, GM can't go to 10,000 suppliers and seek the low price.'
A project like the Catera will underline Magna's role as one of the world's top interior suppliers.
During the 1990s, Magna has gone on an acquisition binge in a race to keep up with rivals such as Lear Corp. and Johnson Controls. With North American sales of $3.9 billion, Magna is seventh on Automotive News' list of top original equipment suppliers to North America.
Last year, the company was named supplier of the year by General Motors. Magna also won a big contract last year to supply frames for GM's next line of full-sized pickups and sport-utilities, scheduled for the 1999 model year.
Lear is third and Johnson Controls is fifth on the Automotive News list of suppliers. All three companies now boast of their ability to design an entire vehicle interior.