For a glimpse of the future, consider Magna International Inc.'s role in the Lincoln Navigator.
When the Ford Motor Co. project came up four years ago, Magna polled its division managers to see if they were up for a new challenge. Could the Aurora, Ontario, conglomerate manage the sport-utility's entire exterior for Ford? Body panels, trim, paint, glass, lights and all? Or could it manage the entire interior - seats, consoles, instruments, doors, trim and the rest?
Ford bought into the idea and handed Magna responsibility for delivering both the interior and exterior. Ford kept the powertrain in-house.
The handoff brought Magna closer than suppliers are accustomed to getting to the traditional role of the automaker. In addition to designing, engineering and manufacturing its own major components, Magna had to source dozens of parts from other suppliers. That meant working with those companies in roles that normally would have been provided by teams of engineers at the automaker.
'It gave Ford a competitive advantage by getting to market faster,' says Graham Orr, Magna executive vice president of corporate development. 'It also took cost out of the project by having one program manager in the supply chain instead of many.'
The company is ranked by Automotive News as the 7th-largest supplier to North America.
Ford is preparing to turn over another interior management program to Magna, as is General Motors. Magna responded earlier this year by forming a business entity called Symatec to handle total-management projects.
Meanwhile, Magna continues pushing the envelope of supplier responsibility. This month, it expects to close a deal to acquire Austria's Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG, along with an 85 percent stake in powertrain engineering company Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik AG. That will catapult the supplier into the role of engineering and building complete vehicles. It would allow Magna to offer a turnkey service to automakers.
Orr reveals that two automakers, one from North America and one from Europe, are in talks with Magna about building high-volume autos at the Austrian operation. Steyr now builds vehicles for Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG, with production runs ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 a year.