Nissan North America Inc. couldn't have made the message any clearer to its U.S. suppliers in the past two years: Cut costs by 20 percent or risk losing the business.
The edict translated to an opportunity for Zua Autoparts Inc., a German-Japanese steering system producer from Oakwood, Ga.
When Nissan's longstanding supplier Freudenburg-NOK chose not to supply the steering pump on Nissan's redesigned Altima, Zua stepped in to meet Nissan's tough price targets.
It wasn't a simple project, and Zua asked for help from its parents.
Zua is the 10-year-old U.S. joint venture between Germany's ZF Lenksysteme GmbH and Japan's Unisia JECS Corp.
ZF Lenksysteme itself is a joint venture between ZF Group and Robert Bosch GmbH.
On the other side of the family, Unisia is 29.5 percent owned by Nissan and 10 percent owned by Bosch.
To deliver Nissan's steering pump at a lower cost, Zua knew the part had to be redesigned. To redesign it, Zua relied on a global partnership. Unisia's Japanese staff worked with the Altima design team at Nissan in Japan to design the part into the steering system.
To bring about the cost reduction Nissan wanted, the designers conceived of a new way of mounting the pump into the system.
To engineer the new component, Zua used ZF's engineering staff in Europe. The component also would be handled differently during assembly.
At the Georgia manufacturing plant, engineers from both sides of the partnership helped put the pump into production."I believe our international position gave us something of an advantage when it came to pulling the project together," says Bernhard Freiermuth, president of Zua, which had sales of about $130 million last year. "We can say we have a combination of resources from Japan and Germany, which perhaps allow us to see things from different viewpoints to serve the customer."
Just as important, Freiermuth says, was working with Nissan itself.
"Nissan of Japan and Nissan North America both were involved in this project," he says.
"It was quite challenging to meet the targets we were asked to meet. But it was helpful to have different resources working together like this."