GENERAL MOtors Corp. wants to know absolutely everything about Richard Lindgren's business -- details on its profit and loss figures, manufacturing capacity, and research and development efforts.
Lindgren is chief executive officer of Cross & Trecker Corp., one of several machine-tool makers that recently responded to an extraordinarily detailed questionnaire from the nation's top automobile producer. The company's reply ran to more than 200 pages.
As America's basic industry struggles to regain lost markets, it is sharing the burden for cost control and product quality with its suppliers, some of which are small companies. GM's foray into what is usually considered the private affairs of other companies is one of the most aggressive aspects of this strategy.
With the data it collects, GM intends to make its assembly lines into more cohesive units that can anticipate and efficiently use suppliers' products. "The whole idea is to get a greater understanding of the suppliers' capabilities and needs," says David Cole, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan. "Manufacturing in general is going to follow GM's lead." A similar approach may apread to such industries as appliances and shipbuilding, where greater flexibility is important.
Smaller suppliers may have more to fear in this new environment. "If you are not a large supplier, and you don't have sufficient capital to carry out the research and development that GM feels is necessary, you've got to be concerned that it will take you off its approved vendor list," observes one machine-tool maker. GM may also be using the data to weed out suppliers that emerged from the industry's downturn with deep financial scars.
The suppliers don't have much choice about whether to respond, even if they regard the information as proprietary. "The domestic machine-tool makers are anxious to supply General Motors with what it needs, so it won't go overseas," says Alan Wrigley, automotive editor of Metalworking News magazine. "The suppliers are willing to answer just about anything."