DETROIT -- It's no secret that relations between suppliers and automakers are strained. But there are solutions.
A study by AT Kearney Inc. concludes that involving suppliers early in a vehicle's development -- a common practice with Japan-based automakers -- is one way to improve relations.
Automakers also should work with suppliers on cost reductions during the design phase. And they should reward supplier innovation, the consulting firm says.
Kearney surveyed 85 auto-maker and Tier 1 and Tier 2 executives in North America.
The company found that the focus on short-term price reductions is a key factor in why 44 percent of the respondents characterized relationships as strained.
Echoing previous studies, Kearney says supplier relations are better with the Japanese transplants.
"There's been significant focus even with Toyota on pressures to reduce price," says Dan Oxyer, vice president of Kearney's North American automotive practice in Southfield, Michigan. "Price reductions of up to 5 percent year after year are expected."
But Oxyer says Toyota, Honda and Nissan do a better job than the Big 3 of working with their suppliers on pricing.
He says it comes down to collaboration.
"In North America, several of the OEMs have told me engineering has agreed to a specific target price with the supplier," he says. "They both walk away feeling pretty good about achieving that target price. But when it moves to the purchasing negotiations, a new price is then introduced, which then drives this mistrust."
Oxyer says there's a danger to poor relations. Automakers could lose out on innovative technology.
He warns, "Without significant upgrading of these relationships, it will be difficult for either side to maintain the level of competitiveness required in today's global market."