News that the FBI had raided three Japanese supplier companies in the Detroit area came in the middle of yesterday’s epic Toyota hearings, adding to the day’s chaos and misinformation. The FBI said clearly at the time that Denso, Tokai Riko and Yazaki were raided as part of an antitrust investigation, which we now know [via Reuters] involves alleged cartel activities in the wiring harness supply market, and involves European firms like France’s Leoni as well. Despite the fact that Denso and Yazaki are cooperating with investigators, and that the US raids appear to be in support of an EU investigation, Rep Mark Souder (R-IN) took the opportunity to connect the Denso raid with the Toyota recall hearings in shameless style. And all to help clear the name of the US-based supplier CTS, which has been blamed for the sticky pedal recall, which just so happens to be in Rep. Souder’s district. Full, mind-blowing quote after the jump.
As GM tools up for production of its Volt extended-range electric car, Automotive News [sub] has noticed something interesting: workers at GM’s new battery pack assembly plant are not represented by the United Auto Workers. Located in the heart of UAW territory (Brownstown Township, MI), the Volt battery plant represents the very jobs that local politicians and GM leadership hailed as the green future of the auto industry. When the plant opened, GM Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre waxed eloquent about the opportunities:
The development of electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt is creating entire new sectors in the auto industry – an “ecosystem” of battery developers and recyclers, builders of home and commercial charging stations, electric motor suppliers and much more. These companies and universities are creating new jobs in Michigan and across the U.S. – green jobs – and they’re doing it by developing new technology, establishing new manufacturing capability, and strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness.
As long as they do so without UAW representation, apparently. Needless to say, if GM can get away with using non-union workers at a crucial plant that’s supposed to represent the firm’s future, things aren’t looking so good for our friends in organized labor.
One of the lingering concerns over the Toyota recall is whether Toyota’s “precision steel” shim fix to the recalled CTS gas pedal assembly will be a reliable long-term solution. Our analysis indicates that these questions might be well-founded, and we’re not the only ones concerned about the viability of Toyota’s proposed fix. In an interview with Toyota’s Jim Lentz yesterday evening, NPR asked why Toyota was using a redesigned pedal for new production, but only offering the shim fix to existing customers. Lentz insisted that the repaired pedals would be as good as the redesigned pedal, that the costs of repair and replacement were about the same, and that the main reason Toyota was repairing rather than replacing recalled pedals was the desire to “get customers back on the road… as quickly as we possibly can.” That’s when NPR went for the jugular.
The ongoing kerfluffle over Toyota’s recall of over 2m vehicles for a gas pedal defect which (allegedly) caused unintended acceleration has caught much of the automotive media flat-footed. How could it be, many have wondered, that the automaker most associated in the US market with the concept of quality has slipped so badly? As TTAC’s Steve Lang recently discussed, Toyota has been on a decontenting binge since the mid-to-late-1990s, putting profit above the quality obsession that had defined its operations up to that point. As a result, the current generation of decontented Toyotas and accompanying quality issues and recalls can be seen as the culmination of a long-term trend. But why did that transition take place? Though it’s easy to blame greed and mismanagement for the decline in Toyota’s quality, the decline in standards was actually a natural progression of Toyota’s constantly-evolving, efficiency-obsessed production system.
Supplier CTS, who produced the gas pedals now under recall from Toyota, tells Automotive News [sub] that it “built parts to the automaker’s specifications and says it has no knowledge that its parts were responsible for any accidents or injuries.” Sources at CTS tell AN that although they are working on a fix with Toyota and that new pedals have been tested and are shipping to Toyota plants, “this is their recall.” That would seem to contradict the facts of the case, as Denso, Toyota’s gas pedal supplier for Japanese-built models, has not been involved in the recall. According to Inside Line, the issue with pedal return damping that has plagued CTS-supplied, US-built Toyotas has not turned up in Denso-produced gas pedals.
Collisionrepairmag.com reports that AzkoNobel, a chemicals company from the Netherlands, has teamed up with Toyota to create Sikkens Autoclear LV, a scratch resistant, self healing clearcoat. The product has been approved by Toyota for use on the Lexus LS range as an aftermarket clearcoat to be used at Toyota dealerships and Toyota affiliated collision repair facilities around the world. According to the article, “Sikkens Autoclear LV Exclusive is highly resistant to scratches, and holds up extremely well after repeated washings, but it truly differentiates itself from other clearcoats with its outstanding self-healing characteristics when a vehicle is nonetheless damaged. With extraordinary “re-flow” properties designed into the coating, small scratches virtually disappear in minutes when exposed to a heat source at temperatures ranging from 40-80 degrees celsius–and even exposure to the sun will initiate the healing process.”
A strong team is only as good as its weakest link, particularly in the automotive industry. Treat your suppliers well and they’ll play fair by you. Try to screw them and they’ll collapse leaving you with serious production problems. Detroit ( Chrysler in particular) had the worst reputation for treating their suppliers badly, but the Pentastar brand now claims to be trying to change all that.
Battered auto parts makers in Japan are surviving on a diet of non-auto parts.
Today’s Nikkei [sub] has it that companies like Toyoda Gosei,. NHK Spring Co. and other auto parts makers are earning an ever greater proportion of profits from electronics components and other businesses not related to cars.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard the word “buyout” echoing out of Detroit, as 2008 marked the year in which auto industry employees finally started to be fired like everyone else: without a hefty severance kiss-off. Ford, on the other hand, did not get a shot at free house-cleaning in bankruptcy court, so it’s bringing back buyouts. According to Market Watch, the Blue Oval is offering blue-collar employees a $50,000 lump sum payment and a $25,000 voucher for a new vehicle or another $20,000 lump sum, as well as six months of health insurance coverage. There’s even an extra $40k for workers of “a certain age.” But this being Detroit, employee benefits are either feast or famine. While Ford’s workers are being offered cash for their jobs, the former Ford parts division Visteon announced today that it is seeking to dump pensions for 21,000 retirees in bankruptcy, following Delphi into yet another stealthy yet popular form of indirect automaker bailout.
As the world recedes, South Korea grows. First Hyundai registers double digit growth in the United States and now other automakers want a piece of the South Korean action. The Korean Times reports that Renault-Nissan announced that they will increase the amount of their South Korean parts suppliers from 28 to 100 by 2013. 108 major subcontractors took part in a conference along with officials from Renault-Nissan’s purchasing organisation.
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