"Which supplier will be next?" I'm regularly asked this question by financial analysts who want to know which suppliers to invest in and the ones to avoid. They want a crystal ball so that they can get ahead of their competition, but unfortunately, one does not exist. With any one vehicle program, suppliers can become winners or losers. It's all about execution. For the Detroit Three, their revival is very dependent on the supplier community that supports them. They will only be as strong as their weakest link. Many suppliers we work with on operations tell us that OEMs or the large Tier One's they support are the villains and they are victims. Indeed, relations are difficult between several suppliers and their customers. However, we have uncovered numerous problems at suppliers that aren't a direct result of actions by their customers. Many supplier plants we visit have tremendous potential to free themselves of the pain they encounter on a daily basis. But often they don't have the financial or human resources to begin this monumental task; or, more importantly, they don't have the leadership.
We have found that suppliers generally fall into one of three categories:
As the Detroit Three work through their restructuring programs, each of them has a major focus on commonization of vehicle architecture, reduction of platforms, the introduction of more models on fewer platforms, and manufacturing more models in fewer plants. These trends will put significant pressure on suppliers. But more importantly, each of the engineering teams of the OEMs are focused on the reduction of part complexity, global commonization of parts and the reduction of total suppliers. Many suppliers have said this is just another threat by the OEMs that they will not live up to. The difference now is that the Detroit Three have their backs against the wall, and they can't afford not to make these changes. We have begun to see the commonization of parts on some of the programs and savings have been huge, particularly in areas of the vehicle that we as consumers don't see. For example, GM commonized horn assemblies globally from 70 to 2 across their entire vehicle lineup. The key point for suppliers with consolidation is not just a savings in engineering time and cost, but it means that supplier consolidation will happen with each part that is commonized. The OEMs will now have the opportunity to pick the best suppliers from their list to make parts globally as they consolidate. Price will still be an issue, but the OEMs will be able to narrow down to the best suppliers to support them globally. Suppliers that are prepared for these changes, have the right strategy in place and invest in the characteristics that will make them more like a "Club" member will be the ones that survive the shake out. Those that continue to live in denial, waiting for that one price increase to pull them out and make them successful again, will be the ones we read about in future news stories.