DETROIT -- Purchasing executives from both suppliers and automakers endorsed the benefits of closer collaboration and cooperation during a purchasing panel at the Automotive News World Congress today.
Nissan Motor Co. is working to tighten supplier ties through the use of a supplier council that provides feedback on Nissan's purchasing, said Rebecca Vest, vice president of purchasing at the Renault-Nissan Purchasing Organization.
The council was established last year, with representatives from 12 parts makers who offer what she said was sometimes "excruciatingly candid feedback" about areas in need of improvement.
"In 2012, we are going to cross off methodically the open items that exist from the supplier council and the voices we've heard from suppliers and to improve," said Vest, 45.
Nissan will expand the dealer council's input next year and expand supplier training, she said.
'The real heroes'
Bob Young, vice president of purchasing at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, said close coordination with parts makers was essential to Toyota's recovery from the March 11 earthquake in Japan that severed supply chains and hammered production.
He called suppliers "the real heroes" in getting Toyota's assembly lines back online. But the quake also exposed just how little communication there is between automakers and lower-tier suppliers, many of whom were all but unknown until plants were idled by the disaster.
Young, 45, cited a supplier whose Japan factory supplied paint pigment to almost every automaker around the world. "I don't think anyone had any idea that was actually happening or where the supply chains of the major suppliers crossed."
Rob Deni, vice president of global supply management at powertrain-parts supplier BorgWarner, said his company is also pursuing closer collaboration -- but with companies outside the auto industry.
The goal is to pair with non-competing companies that use similar processes or tap similar supply bases for components and materials. Often, they have innovative purchasing methods that are all but unknown inside the automotive industry, he said.
BorgWarner, for example, is cooperating with a maker of speakers and headphones to pioneer new methods of acquiring the rare earth metals that are increasingly used in hybrid vehicle batteries and the electric motors of battery-powered cars.
"It's amazing how much you can learn when you collaborate with people in non-competing industries," said Deni, 49, who leads drivetrain purchasing at the Michigan supplier.
Go fast or go far
Emilio Esparza, 47, director of purchasing at Valeo North America, said cooperation and clear communication between automakers and suppliers is especially important as the recovering industry races to meet a surging customer demand.
"Growth with innovation is done together," he said. "If you want to go fast, you can run alone. If you want to go far, you have to run together."