The Detroit 3 didn't spend the past two years just cleaning up their cost structure. They also improved supplier relations to the point that they're within striking distance of the industry's top performers.
A healthy win-win relationship with suppliers is a key factor that not long ago separated top-level automakers (Toyota, Honda and Nissan) from also-rans (the Detroit 3) in North America. Now it's a horse race.
Some key changes, shown in the annual supplier survey by Detroit-area research firm Planning Perspectives Inc.:
-- Chrysler Group, reflecting CEO Sergio Marchionne's vision for cooperation and Chrysler purchasing chief Dan Knott's push for harmony, has dramatically improved relations with suppliers just two years after a self-admitted phalanx of problems.
-- Toyota Motor Corp., followed by Honda, still lead the pack -- but by far less than they did five years ago.
-- Supplier relations with Honda Motor Co.'s North American manufacturing arm have been sliding steadily for four years, and Ford now nips at Honda's heels.
-- Nissan Motor Co., General Motors and Chrysler are in a statistical dead heat.
The survey monitors the Detroit 3 and Japan's three top sellers -- Toyota, Honda and Nissan -- and the results go well beyond bragging rights. Automakers reap big benefits from good supplier relations: higher quality, lower prices and a willingness by innovative suppliers to share new technology.
Scott Paradise, marketing vice president for the Americas for Magna International Inc., North America's largest supplier, said his experiences with automakers back up the survey findings.
Toyota and Honda "are very consistent in what they do, while the Big 3 have changed for the better," he said.