When it came to making quality improvements, the supplier group raised the subject of J.D. Power and Associates. Power's customer quality surveys are used across the auto industry to help auto plants track down their mistakes.
Auto plant engineers use the survey results to identify specific consumer complaints - trunk lights that flicker, fuel compartment doors that are difficult to open - and then take action on their own to fix them. But automakers and suppliers typically do not comb through the data together, collaborating on solutions.
Mitsubishi's supplier group challenged that practice. The suppliers told Mitsubishi that, henceforth, they wanted to look through the Power surveys themselves - a request that caused Mitsubishi to seek a ruling from Power's organization in Westlake Village, Calif., on the legal use of its data.
Power approved the idea. But now that Mitsubishi has begun turning over the data, the supplier group has another twist: The group wants any supplier in the chain to be able to suggest changes and improvements for any other supplier identified in Power's crosshairs.
One of the first specifics to come out of the Power data was a complaint about a window that tends to fog up. National Materials' Barry sits on the group's J.D. Power committee.
With him is a Mitsubishi supplier of interior plastic trim parts.
"He's a plastics molder," Barry says. "The window has nothing to do with him or his business. But he has some great ideas about fixing the fogging problem. So our argument was, 'Let's open this up to everybody. If you've got an idea, let's hear it.' " Lawrence agrees.
"We're not sure how far we'll go with this, or how far it will take us," the purchasing chief says. "But right now, it holds a lot of promise for us. It's taking on a life of its own. What we've been trying to create for the past few years is a stable, profitable supply base. Now we're taking the step of asking that supply base to help us operate better. It's a holistic approach. In the end, the supplier is just another part of us."