BMW has figured out something about getting ahead in the cutthroat auto industry: A satisfied supplier brings a customer innovations and new products. An unhappy supplier might take them elsewhere.
The way BMW sees it, innovation sells cars, and suppliers are key sources of that innovation.
"Without the supplier we will not be successful," Murat Aksel, BMW Americas senior vice president of purchasing and supplier network, told Automotive News. "The supply chain is the heart of the business."
Suppliers have corroborated Aksel's sentiments by naming BMW the industry's most favored parts and technology customer. The German automaker led the pack in supporting supplier innovation in the 2017 North American Suppliers' Choice Study by Deloitte and Automotive News. Since 2009, BMW has stayed at or near the top of the biennial supplier survey.
BMW has implemented a culture of collaboration with suppliers, according to the study. BMW involves them early in product development, financially rewards innovations and builds trust, suppliers said in the study.
In particular, suppliers noted BMW's decisiveness in adopting new technology into production vehicles and its willingness to assign internal resources to help suppliers solve problems.
Why would a buyer of new technologies behave otherwise?
Many suppliers and observers wonder the same thing.
Supplier relations directly affect auto companies' bottom lines, says John Henke, president of Planning Perspectives, which publishes an annual survey of supplier relations with automakers. "It's costing them hundreds of millions of dollars," Henke says of automakers with poor supplier relations.
Henke's studies align with the Deloitte/Automotive News reports. Both find that a supplier is more likely to go out of the way to bring new products and innovations to a customer if the customer maintains a positive working relationship.
In last year's Deloitte/Automotive News survey, 82 percent of respondents agreed that automaker support has a significant impact on a decision to share innovations, up from 71 percent in 2015. More than half of suppliers said they would withhold their most innovative products, competitive pricing and best resources from automakers that do not support and encourage collaborative relationships.