BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. is trying to develop closer working relationships with its suppliers as it expands.
The automaker has created a corps of employees whose jobs will be to work with specific suppliers during Mercedes' $600 million plant expansion in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Bill Taylor, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. CEO, has dubbed the team members "supplier development liaison groups" that will spend five to six hours a day working at supplier offices to help them keep up with the Mercedes project.
"Suppliers need to be an extension of your business," Taylor said at the Automotive News Manufacturing Conference here.
"Supplier systems need to be more connected with the OEM's systems, not just in logistics or parts ordering or payment. They should include the same set of scorecards for quality, problem solving, production systems, efficiency - all the measurables of the OEM."
The approach represents a new level of development for the Mercedes operation.
Since it began building M-class SUVs in 1997, the subsidiary has inched into more sophisticated activities. Last year, Taylor began sending engineers from the Alabama operation to Germany to participate in the development of future vehicles. The subsidiary also has begun using Mercedes team members to work with North American and European suppliers on quality initiatives.
"We need to be part of the supplier's business plan," Taylor said.
"If we don't fully integrate our suppliers, there is no way we will achieve the quality or efficiency levels we need. That clearly is a model we will follow as we develop future models," he said of the increased supplier involvement.
The Tuscaloosa operation is on a steep growth curve. Originally intended to produce about 65,000 SUVs annually, the unit is expanding to a capacity of nearly 180,000. In 2005, Tuscaloosa will produce the M class and the new GTS crossover vehicle.
The expansion is prompting Mercedes to sign on additional suppliers and require more suppliers to build their plants closer to Tuscaloosa.
Taylor said there will be some common parts between the new GTS and the next-generation M class, which is being converted from a body-on-frame truck construction to a unibody design.
Because of the resulting higher volumes, he said, some suppliers are considering investing in local plants, whereas they might have been less interested in Mercedes' original business plan.