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Published: Tuesday, 5/15/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Detroit auto companies show gains among big suppliers


DETROIT — A survey of employees at auto suppliers about their relationships with the biggest auto companies shows that although Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Corp. still rank at the top, the U.S. firms are closing the gap. And Chrysler Group LLC made the biggest gain in the last year.

Planning Perspectives surveyed 564 salespeople and engineers from 439 direct suppliers on areas such as trust, communication, helpfulness in engineering, and the opportunity to make a profit. The order of the six largest automakers didn't change — Toyota, Honda, Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp., General Motors Co., Chrysler — but the gap between first place and sixth place was 19 percent, the smallest in the survey's 12 years.

Collaboration with suppliers can help automakers lower costs, improve quality, and spur innovation. When sales drop, as in the recession and last year's tsunami and quake in Japan, automakers have leaned on suppliers to cut costs, said John Henke, Planning Perspectives' chief executive officer. Starting with the 2008-09 downturn, Toyota and Honda became "a little more adversarial" with suppliers, he said.

Chrysler gained 12 percent this year, the biggest increase. The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based firm improved for the third straight year. Although Chrysler stayed in last place, the difference between it and GM and Nissan isn't statistically significant, Mr. Henke said.

At Chrysler, "we are very pleased to see evidence that the work we are doing to improve our relationships with our suppliers is making an impact," said Scott Kunselman, senior vice president for purchasing. "The survey results make it clear that while we are on the right track, we still have a long way to go."

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