With industry surveys showing more suppliers reserving their best stuff for foreign-owned automakers, General Motors is using its private supplier shows to make sure it doesn't fall behind.
The seven suppliers at GM's Tech World display at the automaker's technical center in Warren, Mich., last week said they're happy to oblige because the show gives them unprecedented access to executives, engineers and purchasing managers.
A study published this summer by Planning Perspectives Inc. concluded that U.S. suppliers are shifting their prime research and development projects to the North American divisions of foreign-owned automakers. Those automakers, in general, have better relations with their suppliers.
GM says it has put more emphasis on supplier shows to make sure that doesn't happen.
Suppliers say it's effective.
"Unless you have a champion like a line executive, it's difficult to lasso technology and pull it into the vehicle," said John Nielsen, GM global account director for Livonia-based TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. "That's the whole focus of this show. We've got the whole chassis team coming in."
GM chooses suppliers for the twice-annual Tech World show based on performance and GM's technology needs. Suppliers are encouraged to bring their latest innovations. No competitors are allowed to see the displays, some of which are behind curtains. GM opened the show to the media for the first time earlier this month.
GM has hosted Tech World for several years. What's different is the commitment from top executives to attend and the follow-up studies.
"Sometimes it's hard to find the right button to push or get the right contact" said James Bovenzi, executive director of program purchasing and current and future business for GM. "Five or six years ago, we had Tech World on a bulletin board and asked people to try to stop by. And we didn't measure results. Now the executives make time. We have decision-makers coming in as teams, with engineering and purchasing teams."
Andrew Parlock of Webasto Roof Systems Inc. has been trying to get an engine-off car heater into the North American market for about five years.
The device, which warms, defrosts and heats coolant without the engine running, is popular in Europe. But the Rochester Hills-based company hasn't had much luck here.
But he said he's been able to show the system to more people in three days at Tech World than in the past year.
"We had 15 minutes with a group of 12 HVAC engineers," said Parlock, thermosystems account manager. "We've never had that time with those engineers before."
GM opened up the show because it's trying to dispel the notion that GM doesn't get the best technology from suppliers. The company admits it needs to work on its relationships but said its size and varied vehicles draw the best from suppliers.
Improving Tech World also helped. Since 2002, GM has signed 48 supply contracts from Tech World meetings.