BARCELONA, Spain - The chairman of the world's largest auto supplier has called for an end to the blame game in manufacturer-supplier relations.
Carmakers and their suppliers share in the design and development of components and systems and should share the responsibility when things go wrong, said Franz Fehrenbach, chairman of Robert Bosch Gmbh.
"If we don't stop the finger-pointing, it will be bad for all of us," Fehrenbach told the Automotive News Europe Congress here in a keynote speech. "There is no alternative to a trustful relationship."
The contentious climate in manufacturer-supplier relations was a hot topic at the conference. Four executives - two from suppliers and two automaker purchasers - addressed the issue in a roundtable.
'Tough but fair'
"As a supplier, I want my customer to be tough but fair," said panelist Volker Barth, president of Delphi Europe, Middle East and Africa. "What I think a supplier wants in order to be a partner is first longevity - enough predictability to believe in commitments that they will last."
Too often, that long-term commitment is lacking, suppliers say.
The purchasing roundtable included, from left: Paul Stokes, Ford; Hari Nair, Tenneco Automotive; Jean-Philippe Collin, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen; and Volker Barth, Delphi. (PHOTO: PHILIP MEECH)
Hari Nair, executive vice president of Tenneco Automotive Inc., said manufacturers should bring suppliers into the design process earlier.
"There are some things our customers can do," Nair said. "It starts with design. Unfortunately, this process for some customers never seems to end. A product is designed and redesigned. Some is unavoidable and some avoidable. We can take on more responsibility and help the total system do better."
Paul Stokes, head of European purchasing operations for all Ford Motor Co. brands in Europe, said: "I spend a good chunk of my time looking at supplier quality. I also spend a good deal of time looking at warranty costs.
"Unfortunately, I also look at field action," he said, referring to recalls. "We regularly have far too many field actions. This is not something we should be proud of and should work harder at."
SupplierBusiness, an industry newsletter that rates manufacturer-supplier relationships, cites two basic models: one based on command and control contracts and the collaborative model popularized by Japanese automakers.
Suppliers seem to prefer the collaborative model, says SupplierBusiness Research Director Colin Whitbread. Toyota Motor Corp. has finished at or near the top of client satisfaction surveys done by SupplierBusiness.
Stokes blamed Ford's poor results in supplier satisfaction surveys partly on the fact that Ford's European sales have been flat in recent years.
Ford has been under fire from CLEPA, the European supplier association, for its global terms and conditions agreement, the basic contract that sets rules for Ford's relationship with its suppliers.
Lars Holmqvist, executive director of CLEPA, said he didn't agree that supplier dissatisfaction with Ford results only from flat sales. He said at least part of Toyota's success is because of its harmonious relationship with supplier companies.