Are relations between the Big 3 and its suppliers truly worse today than they were five, 10 or 20 years ago? After all, the two sides of the great auto industry divide have never seen eye to eye.
In fact, there is a quantifiable decline in trust between parts makers and Detroit car companies. The Big 3 ought to do something about it.
One supplier satisfaction survey after another makes the point. American auto companies aren't in sync with their suppliers, and Japanese companies are.
Suppliers are doing more than just complaining to pollsters. Some are changing their own purchasing organizations to reflect the Japanese collaborative style rather than the American confrontational style.
Delphi Corp. is the prime example. It is trying to manage its supply chain the way Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. do. That's a strong indictment of the way the Big 3 operate.
Within the past year both General Motors and Ford Motor Co. have quarreled with suppliers over issues that could have been avoided. GM imposed its 30-day cancellation clause to end contracts with noncompetitive suppliers. Ford suppliers fear new contract terms that allow the automaker to terminate purchase orders with a supplier at any time for "any or no reason."
GM and Ford say they are unlikely to use the controversial provisions. They simply wanted to standardize their worldwide contracts. But why rub suppliers' noses in the fact that carmakers have the upper hand?
GM, Ford and the Chrysler group don't need to turn their purchasing operations into Toyota or Honda clones to improve supplier morale. They just need to be less adversarial.
The latest Planning Perspectives Inc. survey says relations are getting worse. It says suppliers don't trust their Big 3 customers. That can't help but erode the competitiveness of the carmakers.
Sure enough, suppliers are shifting resources from the Big 3 to companies such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
We don't need a survey to know that there is antagonism between suppliers and the Big 3, but what gets measured might get managed.