Looking for a good partnership

  • 22-Apr-2009 04:29 EDT
Continental's Roberts Abele provides insights during a Wednesday afternoon business theater session at the SAE 2009 World Congress.

Making the case for partnerships in the automotive industry is not hard, but getting it right isn't always easy.

Successful partnerships share common points. And unsuccessful partnerships share common points. The good/bad business partnership comparison is much like a marriage, Roberts Abele, Vice President Engineering for Powertrain Engine Systems at Continental Automotive North America, said Wednesday during an SAE 2009 World Congress panel discussion.

Comparing partnerships to marriages, Abele said that the risk of failure is present when certain behaviors dominate. As such, a partnership can sour when one party manipulates, both parties have unrealistic goals, and there is poor communication.

The people side of the equation can make or break a partnership. "It's the people that sit next to each other that have to put the issues on the table and solve those issues together," said Andreas Schell, Vice President for Electrical and Electronics Engineering Core, Chrysler LLC.

Chrysler, no stranger to partnerships, is interested in innovative-inspired collaborative undertakings. One example, dubbed the "big room concept," would team up wiring harness providers and body controller suppliers for advanced development work. "We are working on this. We've had our first discussions with suppliers," Schell said.

Talking and listening are paramount to a successful partnership. "Partnerships can offer a variety of benefits," said Abele, citing cost reductions, better solutions, faster time to market, reduced risk/shared risk, access to markets, and access to know-how.

Tom Watson, former Vice President of Engineering and Technical Planning for ArvinMeritor's Light Vehicle Systems, said material supplier partnerships take on added significance and value for industry players active in advanced hybrid-electric and electric-vehicle development. "OEMs and tiered suppliers have less leverage on material suppliers now and will have less in the future, so partnerships are needed," he said, pointing out that lithium, silicone monoxide, and cobalt represent key materials of the future.

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