Nissan North America Inc. is courting aftermarket suppliers in search of new parts and ideas for the automaker's growing U.S. business.
Nissan last month invited 100 people from aftermarket companies to conduct a supplier fair at its recently expanded Nissan Technical Center in Farmington Hills, Mich.
The event was intended to identify prospective suppliers outside the typical original-equipment parts industry, says Robert Sump, vice president for component engineering at Nissan Technical Center North America Inc.
"Some of them have things to offer that might be applicable to other uses on the OE side," Sump says.
"It will also help when we need something at the retail level, to have us be familiar with the company."
The U.S. aftermarket parts industry is relegated largely to consumer sales through auto dealerships, auto parts chains and mass-merchandise stores.
The aftermarket often leads the way on product innovations, since small suppliers need to respond fast to mercurial consumer tastes.
Wheels are an example.
Aftermarket companies capitalized on the demand for oversized wheels and high-end rims long before the automakers did.
Tapping into the aftermarket mystique could help a company like Nissan attract young buyers.
But Sump says one problem faces Nissan:
Many small companies still are fuzzy on exactly what Nissan is doing in North America.
Nissan spent $80 million expanding North American engineering operations to support nine U.S.-made nameplates, adding 300 engineers in 2004 alone.
But many suppliers still assume Nissan designs, engineers and builds vehicles in Japan, he says.
That was why it was important for the company to have them at the Farmington Hills tech center.
"They have no idea who Nissan is," Sump says.
"I call this presentation 'Nissan 101,'" he says.
"They learn how to work with us. Certainly something will come out of it."
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