DETROIT -- John Henke is a tough grader.
Henke, CEO of Planning Perspectives Inc. in suburban Detroit, says North America's six major automakers made zero progress improving relations with suppliers over the past year.
Henke, who released his annual study of 441 suppliers today, boiled his results down to informal letter grades for Automotive News.
Among the Big Six, Toyota and Honda, which traditionally enjoy the warmest relations with suppliers, both got a B. Ford got a C; and Nissan, General Motors and Chrysler all got a C- for their current relations with suppliers.
Among European automakers, BMW and Mercedes-Benz both got a B, while Volkswagen got a C-.
A skeptical Henke said: "All the top people in purchasing have been talking about how important supplier relations are. But it ain't happening. It just isn't happening."
The study, which is in its 13th year, used five basic metrics to generate an overall score -- dubbed the Working Relations Index -- for each automaker.
Those metrics were communications, profit opportunities, supplier relations, "help" (willingness to help suppliers cut costs and improve quality) and "hindrance" (late engineering changes, conflicts between engineers and purchasers, etc.).
Suppliers also judged automakers in six purchasing categories: powertrain, chassis, exterior, interior, body-in-white and electrical-electronics.
The overall scores for the Big Six automakers were bunched tightly together, a big change over the past decade, but with almost no change over the past year. They range from 297 for Toyota at the top of the list to 250 for Chrysler at the bottom.
In this year's study, Honda was the only automaker among the Big Six with a score -- which declined six points -- that shifted by a statistically significant amount.
BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen were ranked separately because they were recently added to the survey. Hyundai and Kia were excluded because their sample size of suppliers was too small.
Toyota and Honda traditionally enjoyed the best supplier relations by a big margin, and Chrysler and GM were the worst by far.
In 2005, a 301-point chasm separated the best and worst. Then Toyota and Honda began to slide, while GM and Chrysler improved. Now, only a 47-point difference separates the best and worst performers among the Big Six, Toyota and Chrysler.
Now, none of the six big automakers is making much progress, leading to a mixed bag of pluses and minuses:
- Toyota and Honda were victimized by their rapid growth in North America. As both companies expanded their purchasing operations, new staffers failed to absorb the companies' culture of cooperation.
- Honda and Ford get their suppliers involved in product development earlier and more effectively than other automakers.
- Toyota makes the fewest late engineering changes, a sign of disciplined product development. Chrysler makes the most, followed by GM.
- Suppliers are most willing to invest in new technology to win contracts with Ford and Toyota.
- Chrysler's previous efforts to improve relations with suppliers "came to a screeching halt" after former purchasing chief Dan Knott died last year, Henke said. Knott was replaced by Scott Kunselman.
Despite Henke's tough grades, the automakers contacted last week did not dispute the accuracy of the results. Instead, they chose to look on the bright side.