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Volkswagen Announces Expanded Investment in the United States

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Volkswagen announced today that the company plans to add a long awaited 7 passenger mid-sized SUV to the U.S. auto market in late 2016 and that the design and production of this vehicle will originate from VW’s current facility in Chattanooga Tennessee.   

Volkswagen CrossBlue SUV concept

Source: Car and Driver


The German based automaker indicated that it plans to invest $600 million to both establish a new research center to be named National Research& Development and Planning Center to help design this new SUV and expand the existing Chattanooga to accommodate a new SUV production line. The new research center is expected to employ upwards of 200 engineers while an additional 538,000 square feet of capacity and an incremental 2000 factory jobs will be added to the U.S. facility. With this new incremental investment, annual production volumes at Chattanooga would rise to 250,000 vehicles.

The company re-iterated that from 2014-2018, it will be investing more than $7 billion in capital resources in both the U.S. and Mexico in order to fulfill its goal to deliver 800,000 vehicles in U.S. and North America sales volume.

This new model is to be based on the CrossBlue concept, developed specifically for the North American market and unveiled last year at the Detroit Auto Show. According to a posting by Car and Driver, the model is designed to compete with the likes of the Honda Pilot, Ford ExplorerJeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander. Emphasis is on style and very high fuel economy including a diesel powered version. This Car and Driver article published in January 2013 declared that it was almost a certainty that the SUV would be produced in Chattanooga.  So much for hype, drama and speculation.

Business media has widely reported that efforts by VW to broaden its penetration of the U.S. auto market continue to stall.  According to a published report from Bloomberg regarding the latest announcement, VW’s U.S. sales declined 22 percent in June, accelerating an overall annual decline of 13 percent for the first-half of 2014. That is counter to a reported 4.2 percent increase in the overall U.S. market during the same period.

Readers may recall that in mid-February an effort to have workers at Chattanooga represented by the United Auto Workers union was narrowly defeated. The Chattanooga production facility was one of a very few Volkswagen global based facilities not having a formal Works Council and thus the German based IG Metall labor union advocated to Volkswagen’s senior management to encourage the formation of such a structure in the U.S.  The ultimate vote failed to win a majority, but the vote was close, with a final reported tally of 712 to 626 indicating rejection of labor union organization. Leading up to the vote, a highly charged campaign by local legislators and activists alleging that union representation would jeopardize any future work being sourced at the plant, including the pending SUV model.  Today’s VW announcement includes statements from many of the same politicians echoing the positive implications for the local economy.

However, VW may also be addressing the need for more open worker input to decisions. Today’s VW announcement additionally indicates that Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s General and Works Council will join the Board of Directors of Volkswagen Group of America “to play a more concentrated role in shaping our U.S. strategy in the future.” In the press release, Osterioh indicates that he is “determined to uphold the interests of Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga. Previous media reports have quoted Osterloh as indicating that having a Works Council was an important factor that would play into whether another product would be made in the U.S. facility. Of more interest, four days ago, the UAW also announced that it will open a branch office close to the Tennessee facility.

Obviously, VW is late to the party in introducing a U.S. model SUV, and two years is a long time in today’s consumer’s markets.  This is a high stakes effort that requires total collaboration and succinct decision-making. Engineering, product management, supply chain and production teams will have to highly synchronize efforts to assure the 2016 milestone will happen. For its part, VW corporate will have to shed its centralized decision-making model and let the new North America based research center carry the ball.

Bob Ferrari

Mexico Becoming More Attractive for Auto Production

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According to media reports, BMW is expected to announce sometime today that the German luxury automotive producer will invest upwards of $1 billion to build its first auto assembly plant in Mexico. Informed sources are being cited as indicating that the proposed new facility, BMW’s second in North America, will be designed to produce upwards of 150,000 vehicles per year.  Speculation is that the plant will be located in San Luis Potosi, about 250 miles northwest of Mexico City.  An announcement is expected from a ceremony being planned today with the President of Mexico. The Mexican plant investment follows an earlier announcement to invest $1 billion to increase production capacity by 50 percent at the automaker’s existing production facility in the U.S., raising capacity to upwards of 450,000 vehicles annually.

With this announcement, the automaker will join other global based OEM’s that have announced major investments within Mexico.  Last week, Daimler and Nissan jointly announced a $1.4 billion investment in a proposed shared auto assembly plant to produce smaller luxury vehicles. The plant, planned for upwards of 300,000 vehicles per year, will be built nearby an existing Nissan factory.  Plans currently call for an initial Nissan Infiniti model to be rolled off the new assembly line by 2017, followed by a yet to be named Mercedes-Benz model in 2018.

The news follows last-year’s announcement by Volkswagen’s Audi division in building a $1.3 billion plant in Mexico. Volkswagen is also working on a design for a new smaller SUV model for the U.S. market, and with that model, will have to make an additional decision regarding augmenting North America based production. The Wall Street Journal further indicates that Hyundai is also expected to unveil plans for its first auto assembly plant in Mexico.

Why the attraction to Mexico as a North America automotive production hub? 

The first and foremost answer is direct labor costs. Media is quoting a recent study conducted by KPMG indicating that labor costs are currently 60 percent lower than those in the United States.  This week, the Wall Street Journal made reference to a study conducted by automotive industry consultancy AlixPartners indicating that 57 percent of the top 100 Europe based automotive assembly plants are operating at less than 75 percent capacity. This is the obvious overhang from the recent severe recession that impacted Europe, where auto sales declined rapidly. Yet, in the midst of this excess capacity, European OEM’s are augmenting capacity in other lower cost regions.

The second factor involves other costs. Under NAFTA, factories in Mexico have tariff-free access to U.S. and Canadian consumer markets, while having the ability to leverage lower costs in other areas such as domestic transportation. Mexico also provides a considerable currency and labor cost advantage over European based auto plants. That leads to the third factor, global logistics.  Mexico has invested in both its Gulf and Pacific west coast ports which provide added opportunities to export auto production to other global markets including Europe, Latin America or even Asia.

From our Supply Chain Matters lens, European automotive OEM’s are exercising the same strategies that major Japanese OEM’s Honda and Toyota had previously embarked on, investing in North America production as a platform to support evolving export markets.  Honda exported 108,705 U.S. made vehicles to 50 countries in 2013. 

With the new attraction of Mexico, global OEM’s gain even more flexibility in determining the most profitable supply chain sourcing and production paths to support global demand or offset currency fluctuations.

In the end, U.S. manufacturing resurgence is not a lock-in as OEM’s continue to discover other lower-cost options.

Bob Ferrari

© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain matters blog.  All rights reserved.

Service Supply Chains Put to the Ultimate Stress Test in the Automotive Industry

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Across the United States, besides the U.S. team’s accomplishments in the World Cup competition, another dominant traditional and social media based news headline reflects of the incredible number of automobiles and trucks being subject to product recall. 

The primary story focuses on General Motors, which after intense scrutiny from U.S. regulators and legislators regarding faulty ignition switches among multiple models, is recalling all sorts of models that are believed to have been exposed to a component design problem, faulty ignition or otherwise. Thus far in 2014, GM has announced 44 product recalls involving nearly 18 million previously sold vehicles. Today’s social and business media buzz blares that the vehicles been recalled thus far is more than the total number sold in the U.S. in 2013. 

In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary, we called attention to product recalls involving airbags supplied by Japan based Takata Corp. that were expected to expand and involve millions of affected vehicles. Today, both Honda and Nissan recalled close to an additional 3 million vehicles worldwide to repair the subject airbag problem, bringing the total number involved with the airbag defect to roughly 5 million vehicles.

An article syndicated by the Washington Post News Service features the headline: More than 1 in every 10 vehicles on the road has been recalled since January.  That articles notes that the defects range from rather serious (faulty ignition switches, overheating exhaust parts, power steering problems) to other problems where automakers are now highly sensitized to any potential liability problem. This article goes on to note that in the spirit of crisis bringing opportunity, that there may be an upside of this extraordinary situation: “ … meaning that dealers get to have their old customers back in the showroom.  There, they can show off the new models and, at minimum, be in a position to sell drivers on some repairs they previously were not considering.

This author, for one, was completely floored by the above statement.  Are you kidding me!  One in every ten vehicle owners being inconvenienced to have to make a service appointment and bring their vehicles for service, and dealers have the “blank” to try an upsell these consumers?

Beyond the lunacy of such statements, there is a parallel and very critical challenge about to happen.

Automotive service focused supply chains are going to be exercised to their biggest stress test, ever.  All of the subject recalled vehicles will require some form of a repair part, one that has hopefully, been correctly modified to remediate a suspected problem. The sheer numbers imply that some inventory will have to be re-allocated from those destined to support ongoing production schedules for newer vehicles. In some cases, necessary repair parts will not be able to meet overall demand, and dealers will have to be very careful in scheduling service appointments and setting customer expectations.  During Toyota’s past product recall crisis process involving unattended sudden acceleration, Toyota worked directly with its dealer network to coordinate extended service hours for consumers, including nights and weekends.  Coordinated round-the-clock efforts among certain component suppliers and respective dealers were directed at insuring repair parts were adequately distributed and vehicles were scheduled for repair based on availability of necessary parts.

In short, the folks that do necessarily receive all the hero badges, those directly supporting service focused supply chains will be called upon in the coming weeks to literally save brand focused reputations.

Last week, Supply Chain Matters was invited to attend the PTC Live Global 2014 customer conference held in Boston.  One of PTC’s product suites is technology focused on Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) which has been amassed from previous acquisitions of vendors such as Servigistics, MCA, Kaidera, Xelus and others. In one of the sessions, PTC executives noted that expectations have never been higher on the customer and business side of service management. Yet, service management tends to suffer from immature business processes, not from a lack of dedication and effort, but rather a lack of broader understanding to the importance of service management.  Mingling in the hallways and networking sessions, we once again had an immediate sense of how dedicated these people are, and also how unappreciated and frustrating their efforts can sometimes be.

Across automotive, the service focused supply chain will be put to its largest and most expansive stress test from the scope of sheer numbers of vehicles and information required to coordinate service scheduling needs.  Some will rise to the task at hand.  Some will not.

One fact is very clear- auto dealers are advised to take-off their sales hats and concentrate on service and customer satisfaction efforts, in all dimensions.  That includes a very close, almost intimate relationship with those dedicated professionals who plan, manage and fulfill service parts planning and order fulfillment. Forget for the time being, the algorithms and calculations related to mean time between part failures.  It is going to be “all hands on-deck” augmented by information coordination and supply chain intelligence that separates the best in class performers.

Stay tuned.

Bob Ferrari

Supply Chain Matters Friday News Roundup

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It’s the end of the work week and we continue with our news update series related to previous Supply Chain Matters posted commentaries or news developments.


Another Bombardier C-Series Program Delay

Supply Chain Matters has featured past commentaries concerning Bombardier and its efforts to make its presence as an aircraft provider in the single-aisle market and compete with the likes of an Airbus or Boeing. The company’s C-Series of aircraft were designed to offer prospective air carriers an  Bombardier C-Series First maiden Flighttechnologically advanced single aisle aircraft at perhaps a more cost competitive option for airlines. However, like many other commercial aircraft programs, the C-Series has suffered a series of milestone setbacks.  The first maiden flight of the C-Series was in September 2013, nine months behind its original schedule. In December, the aircraft and diversified transportation equipment provider replaced its head of aviation sales due to lagging booked orders.

There are reports of continued setbacks regarding the C-Series program. This month, Bombardier re-started ground tests following a test failure of the aircraft’s innovative geared turbofan engines designed and produced by Pratt & Whitney. The company further announced that it will not feature the C-Series at the Farnborough International Airshow that occurs in July, forgoing a major sales opportunity. The revised plan is to introduce the smaller CS100 version of the C-Series in the second-half of 2015, with the larger version six months later.  Thus far, about 15 percent of test activity has been completed.

The company has scaled-down its expectations of orders to a number of 300 expected orders by the time the aircraft enters operational service. Air Canada had been evaluating the C-Series as a potential replacement for 25 existing Embraer aircraft has now indicated it will not order any of the aircraft.


Airbus Loses Huge A350 Order

An update to our ongoing Supply Chain Matters commentaries regarding Airbus’s A350 supply chain which completed its maiden flight in June of 2013. A major new program development includes some disappointing news.  A350_XWB_first_flight_350242

Business media reported last week that Airbus suffered one of the industry’s largest plane cancellations. Emirates Airlines elected to walk away from a previous deal to acquire 50 A350-900 and 20 A350-1000 aircraft after the airline reevaluated its long-term capacity needs. Emirates is apparently concerned that capacity at its Dubai hub could be an impediment to long-term growth, and that larger capacity aircraft should be part of its fleet strategy.

According to a published report by the Wall Street Journal, the A350 order was placed in 2007 and had a list price value of $16 billion.  The cancellation represents a 9 percent hit to the A350 current order backlog. That will add some sting to the A350 supply chain ecosystem.

According to the WSJ, Emirates is the most influential buyer of Boeing’s 777 and Airbus’s A380 super jumbo aircraft. In November, Emirates boosted its A380 order commitment to 140 aircraft.

The order cancellation also effects engine provider Rolls Royce who indicated that its order book would fall by about 3.5 percent or $4.4 billion as a result of the Emirates decision.


UPS Appoints New CEO and Other Senior Management Changes

Earlier this month, UPS announced that David Abney, currently the company’s Chief Operating Officer, will be the transportation provider’s new Chief Executive Officer. Scott Davis, who has served as the company’s Chairman of the Board and CEO since 2008, will retire from UPS and will assume the role of non-executive Chairman. Both appointments are effective September 1, 2014.

In conjunction with the appointment of a new CEO from the ranks, UPS announced further senior management appointments. Alan Gershenhorn was appointed Executive Vice President and the company’s first Chief Commercial Officer, effective immediately. Gershenhorn will lead development and implementation of broad strategic growth and innovation initiatives focused on creating distinctive customer value. These include new market development, innovative future products and solutions, increased speed-to-market and stronger customer engagement across the entire UPS portfolio. Gershenhorn, a 35-year UPS veteran, previously served as chief sales, marketing and strategy officer.

UPS also announced the addition of Kate Gutmann to lead the provider’s global sales solutions and customer engagement strategy. Her new role as Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Solutions was created to further market penetration through broader customer relationships. Gutmann is a 24 year UPS veteran.

Mitch Nichols, a 27-year UPS veteran and current president of UPS Airlines, was promoted to a newly created position on the Management Committee as Senior Vice President of Transportation and Engineering. His responsibilities will include UPS Airlines, transportation, engineering and sustainability.

Brendan Canavan, currently president of UPS Asia Pacific, will replace Nichols as president of UPS Airlines.  Nando Cesarone, a 24-year UPS veteran, was promoted to President of UPS Asia Pacific.

Rhonda Clark will become the company’s Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). Amy Whitley was named as the company’s first Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. Whitley will oversee global strategies to ensure that UPS leverages the talents and unique perspectives of a diverse workforce. She will also serve as vice president overseeing strategic human resources programs.


Tesla Motors Releases its Patents to Industry Rivals

Tesla Motors announced that it is offering open access to its patents related to its electric car technology to other automotive providers. CEO Elon Musk indicated that the offer is intended to spur wider development of electric powered vehicles that currently only make-up less than one percent of the new car and truck market. BMW is already interested, confirming that it has met with Tesla to discuss the success of electro-mobility on the international level.

Musk hinted at another reason for this announcement.  Readers will recall tesla’s bold announcement to build a “gigafactory” in the U.S. to produce the company’s smaller battery packs for the industry. A sharing of Tesla developed IP can insure that the planned U.S. battery factory can be a potential supplier for other manufacturers.


Kinaxis Completes its IPO

Supply chain planning technology provider Kinaxis announced that it has completed its public offering of the company’s stock in Canada. Kinaxis issued 5,000,000 common shares and an aggregate of 2,739,715 common shares were sold by certain selling shareholders at a price of Cdn$13.00 per share. Canadian business media reports identified the selling shareholders as Boston based HarbourVest Partners and Alberta Trust of Montreal, both of which retain a 30 percent ownership stake.

The initial public offering and secondary offering resulted in aggregate gross proceeds of Cdn$65.0 million to Kinaxis and Cdn$35.6 million to the selling shareholders, for total aggregate gross proceeds of Cdn$100.6 million. Kinaxis’ common shares will be traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “KXS”.

Kinaxis CEO Doug Colbeth indicated to media that proceeds from the IPO will be utilized to pay down $30 million in debt and strengthen the company’s balance sheet. He did not rule out acquisition of other companies if that makes sense for Kinaxis’s business. Kinaxis reported a net loss of Cdn $9.7 million in 2013. In the first quarter of 2014, the company reported revenues of Cdn $15.6 million and a net income of Cdn $2 million.

Automotive Component Supply Strategy Meets Sensitized Regulatory Environment

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Have you ever considered a supply scenario where a key supplier to multiple industry brands encounters a significant or troubling quality problem?

Could that scenario be greatly magnified with a highly sensitized regulatory environment?

That scenario is currently playing out across certain automotive supply chains and reflects that even the smallest part or component failure has far greater brand implications.

According to an exclusive published report from Reuters, product recalls involving airbags supplied by Japan based Takata Corp. will expand and involve millions of affected vehicles. According to the Reuters report, this week, Toyota recalled an additional 1.6 million previously recalled vehicles outside of Japan, as well as 650,000 within Japan because of a believed Takada manufactured airbag defect that has the potential to cause personal injury due to faulty inflators within these airbags. The additional recalled vehicles brought the total number of Toyota branded vehicles subject to airbag recall to more than 7 million over the last five years. 

Reuters further reports that Honda is considering a recall involving more than one million additional vehicles with potentially defective air bags, citing a source familiar with the matter. Last year Honda recalled over a million vehicles because of airbag inflation concerns. The Honda announcement could come by the end of June pending further information from Takata regarding specific inflator component information.  The report additionally indicates that U.S. auto industry regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has this week opened a probe involving an estimated one million vehicles made by Nissan, Mazda and Fiat, in addition to Toyota and Honda. That probe is focused on six reported incidents of airbags not deploying properly in Florida and Puerto Rico.

This news comes in the wake of the increasing high visibility being placed on General Motors and its associated brands due a series of prior product defect awareness and recall snafu’s involving certain ignition switches.   The initial GM incident has prompted additional product recalls involving a multitude of components and millions of vehicles. The entire industry is now highly sensitive to increased  regulatory sensitivity with significant potential monetary fines if known consumer safety issues are not reported on a timely basis. The result has been an explosion of product recall announcements because of such increased scrutiny and regulatory concern with industry supply chains scrambling to provide necessary modified repair parts.

Automotive OEM’s have fostered component product innovation strategies among a key set of lower-tiered component system suppliers, and OEM’s leverage such innovation across multiple vehicle and brand platforms.  As an example, prior Toyota airbag related product recalls involved both the Toyota and luxury Lexus brand. GM’s current wave of product recalls involve many of its brands including Cadillac.

These strategies were put in place to foster both faster product innovation cycles as well as to be able to leverage volume supply costs across multiple global platforms. The objective of leveraging lower component costs has never gone away, at least for certain OEM’s.

According to the Takata web site, the firm serves as a supplier of automotive safety systems and products including airbags, seat belts, restraint systems and other safety related components. This supplier operates 56 plants among 20 countries and is obviously a key supplier for many brands in many production geographies.

From our lens, the current mix of developments at play across multiple automotive brand supply chains provides keen reminders for the needs for more early warning awareness related to component failure trends, the ability to sense and share such information across and among both functional and product design teams with the ability to more adequately identify and trace specific components with their production lots.

Certainly within the automotive industry, supplier management and early warning is no longer the sole purview of procurement teams.  It is fast become a cross-functional, cross-business responsibility led by procurement with the active support and involvement of product design and management. When all the dust settles concerning GM’s ongoing investigations and response plan, much of this learning will be evident.  While automotive has its unique challenges, other industry value-chain teams can also apply similar learning. The product focused and post-sale service focused supply chain are additionally now highly information dependent.

Worst case scenarios involving a product brand and perceptions of quality and safety are not out of the realm of possibility. Speak to procurement, supply chain and product management team members in automotive and you will probably get a clear sense of how distributed product innovation is highly dependent on higher levels of information awareness and product quality measures.

Bob Ferrari

© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog.

All rights reserved.

Supply Chain Matters Friday News Roundup

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It’s the end of the work week and we continue with our news update series related to previous Supply Chain Matters posted commentaries or news developments.

Greenbrier and Watco U.S. Railcar Alliance

Incidents of increasing rail derailment accidents and subsequent exploding tank cars involving shipment of bulk crude oil across the U.S. and Canada have precipitated a shortfall of bulk railcars that can meet required new fire and accident safety standards, railcar producer Greenbrier and railine services operator Watco have formed a 50-50 joint venture to be named GBW Railcar Services. The move is being reported as the first significant railroad industry to retrofit thousands of tank cars that require upgrading to more stringent safety standards being formulated by both Canadian and U.S. regulators. According to published reports, the new venture is expected to begin operations sometime in the third quarter consisting of 38 service repair shops across North America. According to a Wall Street Journal report, estimates are that upgrading tank cars to DOT-111 standards with cost an estimated $15,000-$80,000 per railcar.

The open question remains who pays for the required retrofits: oil company shippers, railcar lessors, railroads or combinations of each.

Tesla Electric Battery Gigafactory

We along with general business media has made note of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s bold plans to build a massive electric battery manufacturing supply facility with the United States. This week, at Tesla’s annual stockholders meeting, Musk indicated that he was “quite optimistic” that Tesla can achieve a greater than 30 percent cost savings in battery packs to power Tesla and other electric vehicles. Musk further indicated that major supplier Panasonic, whom was at first undecided on the potential cost savings, is now in agreement, although the supplier’s ultimate joint-investment in the factory is still to be determined.  Also disclosed is that Tesla is considering designing and building an electric truck model.

Regulatory Approval of P3 Network Nearing Approval

The proposed network alliance among the top three ocean container shipping lines, A.P. Moeller Maersk, CMA CGM and Mediterranean Shipping passed another milestone this week. Business and industry media are reporting that this week, European maritime regulators indicated that they would not raise anti-trust objections with the proposed P3 network, leaving Chinese approval as the final regulatory hurdle remaining.  A few months ago, U.S. maritime regulators also voiced no-objections.

Kinaxis Initial Public Offering Scheduled

A few weeks ago, Supply Chain Matters picked-up on a Canadian Wall Street Journal published report indicating that supply chain planning and response management technology provider Kinaxis was in the midst of preparing for an IPO. Subsequent reports have confirmed the existence of an IPO prospectus and offering that is being planned within Canada only.

This week, Kinaxis issued a press release, restricted to Canada only, which indicates that closing of the public offering is scheduled to take place on or about June 10th.  Earlier in the week, a published Canadian Wall Street Journal report indicated that the target offering price was being lowered to generate sufficient demand, according to people familiar with the matter. According to the Kinaxis release, the initial public offering and secondary offering will result in aggregate gross proceeds of Cdn$65.0 million to Kinaxis and Cdn$35.6 million to the selling shareholders, based on a Canadian $13 per share target price. According to the latest Canada WSJ report, the target number was lowered from a previous target of C$14-C$16 per share.

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