DETROIT - If you ask Ernie Green to identify his favorite customer among the Big 3 and import automakers, he won't tell you directly.
But the CEO of Ernie Green Industries Inc. and former running back for the Cleveland Browns has built close ties with Toyota, Honda and Nissan, a key factor in his Dayton, Ohio, company's 21-year string of profits.
The supplier of suspension modules posted record revenues of more than $500 million in 2002, a year when many suppliers with strong ties to the Big 3 were spiraling toward failure.
The contrast has many parts makers wishing the Big 3 would act more like Japanese automakers, focusing on trust and long-term solutions to reducing costs instead of Draconian demands for price cuts. But the Big 3 never will follow the same pattern as the Japanese, industry watchers say.
Instead, suppliers wistful for the kinder, gentler hand of Toyota or Honda should accept the Big 3 for the way they are and the limits they have. Parts makers are better off using the lessons of the Japanese to slash waste, lower costs and develop innovative technology in order to become the Big 3's first choice, with the leverage to seek prices that provide satisfactory profits.
The Big 3 "think lean, they live lean, a lot of them are trying to think common components at which the Japanese are masterful," said turnaround expert Jay Alix, who heads Questor Partners Funds and Alix Partners LLC in Southfield, Mich.
"But wishing the Big 3 to become Japanese is like saying that Catholics should act more like Jews, and Jews should act more like Protestants. It's a wish. It's just not going to happen. Why not accept what is. Here's what (the Big 3's) needs are, here's what their situation is, and here's how to position yourself."