DETROIT—Auto makers are boosting production and speeding product development by working closely with their suppliers. And suppliers are turning to non-automotive clients and personnel to enhance their innovation.
Senior executives from Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co., Robert Bosch GmbH and Visteon Corp. described their collaborative efforts during a panel discussion at the recent Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.
Scott Kunselman, Chrysler Group's chief purchaser, said teams of Chrysler engineers are working closely with 10 suppliers to improve their productivity as volumes climb following the recession. Chrysler is using Fiat's World Class Manufacturing system, which the Italian auto maker introduced to Chrysler in 2009.
"It's very clear. We have demand that we can't fulfill," Kunselman said after the panel discussion. "We have become actively involved in the suppliers' processes."
Ford is collaborating more closely with suppliers through its Aligned Business Framework program. Ford rewards companies that qualify for the program with global contracts.
Birgit Behrendt, Ford's executive director of global programs, said suppliers in the program accounted for 65 percent of Ford's total purchasing budget last year. By working with a relatively small group of global suppliers, she said Ford can improve efficiency.
For example, the auto maker's C platform, which underpins the Ford Focus, has spawned 10 models worldwide, she said. Global suppliers account for 75 percent of the parts used in the Focus.
Ford also is getting results from its technology reviews, in which a team of senior Ford executives spends a day or two with one supplier to study its latest technology. The auto maker holds about 10 such meetings each year. Ford's no-hands liftgate, lane-departure assist and active-parking assist features all stemmed from those technical reviews, Behrendt said.
To speed product development, suppliers are looking for help outside the auto industry.
Visteon this month unveiled a small-car cockpit concept that integrated a variety of technologies. The cockpit was created with the aid of designers with consumer-electronics backgrounds, Visteon CEO Tim Leuliette said.
"A lot of our people come from outside the industry," he said. "We have to have people who are used to a different tempo."
Bosch is finding automotive and nonautomotive markets for its products to achieve economies of scale. That, in turn, has forced Bosch's various divisions to collaborate more closely with one another.