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A Significant New Milestone Involving the Quality Perception Crisis Among Automotive Supply Chains

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Throughout 2014, Supply Chain Matters called attention to the automotive sector and the unprecedented levels of product recalls that continued to stress auto aftermarket service supply chains and supplier relationships to their limits. From a tactical lens, we observed that the colliding forces of regulatory, political, supplier management and capacity-restrained automotive replacement spare parts networks may well continue for many more months, and that appears to be exactly what continues to unfold. Once more, Supply Chain Matters predicted that when the dust settles, the automotive industry and its supply chain ecosystem partners need to take a hard look at lessons learned.

While automotive OEM’s and their associated brands have taken the bulk of the consumer and regulatory heat around product recalls, quality defects have more often resided within either OEM product designs or parts suppliers and their associated product design or manufacturing processes.

The most significant culprits for the continuous litany of product recalls has been the ignition switch defects involving multiple General Motors vehicles and the alleged defective airbag inflators produced by Japan based supplier Takata Corp for multiple OEM producers. After undergoing continuous ongoing scrutiny from U.S. regulators these past months, Takata refused to broaden the scope of the defective inflators recall beyond a select number of U.S. States with high humidity concerns because the supplier supposedly could not determine the exact cause of defects. That is up to now.

This week provides yet another, but far-reaching significant milestone, namely what is being described as the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, and involving the same potentially defective air bag inflators originating from Takata. Bowing to intense pressure and scrutiny from regulators, Takata has now, for the first time acknowledged that there are defects in its air bag inflators, yet root causes remain unanswered. This week’s announced product recall will be conducted by 11 different automakers and now doubles the number of vehicles subject to recall. Business media now reports the overall vehicle recall as involving nearly 34 million existing automobiles in the United States. Six deaths and upwards of 100 injuries have been linked to the defective airbag inflator problem thus far.

In announcing the current expanded recall, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx indicated: “It’s fair to say that this is probably the most complex consumer safety recall in U.S. history.” Depending on which math is being referenced, the scope of the overall recall amounts to roughly 14 percent of the total vehicles now operating on U.S. roads. Add to that the scope of the 2 million plus vehicles included in the GM product recalls, along with other product related recalls and the picture of a large number of existing vehicles awaiting repair attention becomes a dominant picture. Needless to state, the implications of the continued litany of product recalls involving the industry are far reaching, for both OEM’s, their suppliers, and their service networks.

Logistically, as we and others have noted in our prior commentaries, it will take months and perhaps years for dealer and service parts networks to complete repairs on all recalled vehicles. That will cause additional safety concerns and added frustration among consumers. There are concerns that previous air bag deflator repairs to vehicles may have been completed with defective parts requiring the need for yet another repair.  As noted, the root-causes of the air bag deflator’s defects have yet to be determined by either Takata or a consortium of 10 automotive OEM’s. The shear volumes of cumulative open recalls are testing existing processes and supporting systems, perhaps to their breaking point. As we have pointed out, alternative suppliers have been recruited to augment supplies for both existing new production as well as repair parts needs.

From a political perspective, legislators and regulatory agencies continue to react to the concerns and frustrations of automotive consumers who wonder aloud if automakers really care about the quality of the vehicles they are producing as well as their attentiveness and timely response to vehicle safety. That leads to a continued sensitized regulatory and judicial perspective.

From a financial perspective, the bulk of the costs related to a litany of past product recalls have been on the shoulders of the OEM’s.  However, some automakers such as GM, have managed to shield themselves from expensive lawsuits from prior legislative actions dating back to a previous bankruptcy filing. That will change with the current scope and visibility brought to bear of the latest Takata related recalls. In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal cites one estimate indicating that Takata alone could face recall-related charges in the range of $4-$5 billion, far outpacing an original estimate of $1.6 billion. Yesterday, Takata’s stock fell 10 percent on the Tokyo Exchange as its investors adsorbed the implications. On a broader perspective, the issue of which party bears the bulk of the financial liability for component quality will again be up for discussion.

To be candid and blunt, product quality perceptions have become an overall mess, and it could not come at a worse time.  There was a feeling that automakers had come a long way in overall vehicle reliability but that perception belies the current picture of numerous vehicles now with open recalls.  Once more, consumers clamor for the latest technology advances in vehicle safety, comfort and convenience including all notions of the connected car. Many of these innovations stem from component and sub-system suppliers within an industry that has a track record of mostly marginal supplier relationship building. In its recent annual supplier poll conducted by Planning Perspectives, for the 14th straight year, suppliers continued to rank Toyota and Honda as best customers. Noted is the diametrically opposite goals of an adversarial relationship where OEM’s often seek a supplier’s best technology at the lowest possible price. Compounding the problem are activist investors and private equity firms investing in various tiers of automotive supply chains clamoring for more short-term returns for shareholders.

From our lens, the global automotive industry, and in-particular U.S. based OEM’s need to have rock solid quality focused product design and more responsive early warning quality mechanisms as a top industry priority. Industry executives need to seriously look beyond any perceptions of the panacea of a current super sensitive regulatory environment that will run its course. The notions of an industry solely being driven by lower product margin goals and placing the bulk of that burden on suppliers has to change.  Component, systems and overall vehicle reliability is not the purview of a marketing campaign but rather a systemic process that spans end-to-end product and aftermarket service centered supply chains. Component and systems quality must be a living fabric of supplier relationship management and suppliers need to be fairly compensated for assuring high standards in product design and process innovation, especially considering current product strategies leveraging common brand and/or vehicle model platforms. The stakes are even higher when considering that the electronic and software content of vehicles continues to rise implying more sophisticated reliability and systems focused hardware and software related engineering. In the analogy of carrot and stick agreements, the carrot is longer-term, more collaborative based product design and supply chain focused relationships and the stick is the shared responsibility and liability for warranty and/or product recall costs attributed to vehicle sub-systems such as vehicle safety.

Finally, you may have noticed that lately, not a day goes by without a barrage of targeted online or traditional media ads urging we as consumers to buy or lease that new car with latest technological features.  From our lens, the industry will be better served by re-allocating existing marketing and sales budgets towards investments in more robust early-warning mechanisms related to component quality and to current overburdened and perhaps collapsing aftermarket service networks that are the first line of intelligence for quality and vehicle safety.

Bob Ferrari

© 2015 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


More on FedEx Acquisition of GENCO and Bongo International

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This is additional supplement to our previous Supply Chain Matters commentary highlighting FedEx’s latest fiscal third quarter earnings.

In mid- December of 2014, Supply Chain Matters called attention to the FedEx announced acquisition of GENCO, billed as one of the largest 3PL’s in North America operating more than 130 warehouse and distribution facilities. At the time, we also called attention to FedEx’s acquisition of Bongo International, an e-commerce platform that facilitates international customers purchasing items from domestic websites

Based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania with reported revenues of $1.6 billion, GENCO provides a rather diverse collection of forward and reverse logistics services including distribution, contract packaging, customer returns processing product refurbishment, disposition and recycling. FedEx executives positioned this acquisition as significantly expanding FedEx services to further include returns, test, repair and remarketing of products.

In late January, FedEx reported that it had closed on the acquisition and that GENCO would operate as a subsidiary led by Todd R. Peters, GENCO’s Chief Executive Officer with future revenues reported under the FedEx Ground business segment.

Today, in a short news brief, The Wall Street Journal indicated that according to its recent quarterly report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), that the price paid by FedEx for GENCO was $1.4 billion. FedEx reportedly funded the acquisition using a portion of proceeds from a January debt issuance.

This is rather interesting news since it indicates that FedEx paid less than current GENCO’s existing earnings.  It is perhaps an indication of further factors or monetary considerations or that the close relationship among the two companies was indeed close.

Additionally, FedEx disclosed it paid $42 million in cash from operations for the acquisition of Bongo International LLC.


Industry Disruptor: Tesla and the Automotive Driving Experience

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We are often reminded that one of the most common traits of industry disruptors is that they think differently.  They challenge the notions of industry norms, current practices and business processes or the leveraged use of technology in product and service delivery.   Telsa Motors Model S

Over the coming weeks, Supply Chain Matters will feature a series commentaries focused on industry disruptors and their implications to existing customer fulfillment.

Fast becoming one of the icons of disruptive thinking approaches is Elon Musk with his current ventures in the automotive and space exploration and aerospace sectors.  The two companies he leads, Tesla Motors and Space Exploration Technologies have each challenged legacy industry practices.

Supply Chain Matters has featured a number of prior commentaries specifically focused on Tesla and how this automotive producer has challenged existing norms in is driving re- thinking in supply chain vertical integration, advanced manufacturing practices, service and distribution strategy. Tesla’s fundamental approach is that an automobile serves as a transportation device that is primarily powered by computer intelligence and the user experience. There is little need for intermediaries or after-market providers.

This week, Tesla has invigorated both social and business media on the news of its latest series of software upgrades planned for the Tesla Model S. At a recent automotive industry conference, Musk declared that it will soon become illegal for humans to take the wheel once the technology of self-driving cars have proven themselves. If you sit in a Tesla vehicle, it’s visually striking that the huge 17 inch LCD screen takes-up more driver attention than a traditional automobile dashboard.  It was designed as such.

Last October, IHS reported on its initial analysis of a teardown of the components of the Tesla Model S with the headline: Is it a Car or an iPad?  The article is impressive and worth a read.

What is extraordinarily impressive is that Tesla’s software upgrades are delivered wirelessly to individual owned consumer vehicles in the truest form of cloud delivery. There is no need for the traditional automotive industry dealer visit. Musk views such upgrades in the same context as updating a laptop computer or a smartphone. He further categories autonomous driving as a “solved-problem”. Last year, Tesla began equipping its Model S with on-board cameras and sensors to be powered by a sophisticated system termed “autopilot”.

Over the coming weeks and months planned upgrades will include functionality that completely puts the driver at-ease regarding the existing range of the car’s battery power. The software analyzes the current driving route, road conditions, topography and location of available battery charging stations. If the car is going to exceed the range and distance to the nearest charging station, a real-time warning is issued along with GPS coordinates to the charging facility. According to Musk, “it makes it almost impossible to run out unless you do it intentionally.”

In an upcoming release 7.0, a new user interface will provide the ability of the car to operate with complete autonomy on highways when the driver lets go of the steering wheel.

In the context of the consumer experience, like Apple, Tesla delivers on design elegance and the interactive user experience. The car you may have purchased one or two years ago, has newer functionality and user experience features delivered by the cloud than when you purchased that vehicle.

For the remainder of automotive related industry, a disruptor such as Tesla will elicit more accelerated innovation in applied technology and the driver experience. Suppliers are already working on more sophisticated processors, sensors, embedded systems and driving aides.

Is it any wonder that when news broke that Apple was working on its own secret development of an electric vehicle, that social media lit-up like fireworks and the automotive industry shuttered.

In today’s industries, change is constant and the termed clock speeds of product innovation are indeed accelerating.  Supply chain teams will invariably be either on-board facilitators or unfortunate obstacles to these changes.

Bob Ferrari

Note: This author is not a current owner of a Tesla automobile nor  a stockholder, rather an observer and enthusiast of automobiles.

 


Report of Alternative Supplier of Automotive Airbag Inflators

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There has been a new development regarding the ongoing large number of product recall activities involving suspected automobile defective airbag inflators produced by supplier Takata Corporation.

The Associated Press is reporting that rival Japan based airbag inflator supplier Daicel Corporation announced last week that it will accelerate the building of a second U.S. factory in Arizona to meet the growing demand for alternative capacity for these components.  This supplier, responding to specific requests from Honda Motor for an alternative supplier, and expects to start operating the Arizona facility by March of 2016.  According to this report, Daicel has further plans to increase production of inflators at its existing factory in Western Japan to supply additional replacement parts later this year.

This is an obvious sign that alternative component supply arrangements are being initiated as Takata continues to struggle in resolution of current component needs.


General Motors Discloses Cost of Product Recalls

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Last year, in what was billed by business and general media as the worst U.S. product safety crisis in recent memory, a series of large scale product recalls among multiple General Motors brands involving upwards of 2.6 million vehicles brought this company to crisis footing as it attempted to restore consumer confidence and establish a new footing for growth.

The defective ignition switch recalls involving thousands of vehicles triggered consequent increased regulatory and business media scrutiny. An additional response among GM’s product teams was to subsequently review all potentially harmful vehicle safety and parts quality issues and err on the side of caution with even more product recalls involving multiple parts issues.

In conjunction with its earnings reporting in October 2014, CEO Mary Barra assembled the company’s top 300 executives to declare that that the company must do what it takes to be the “world’s most valued automotive company”.  That included a renewed more passionate emphasis on quality as well as reliance on an expected crop of planned new models expected to come to market, many of which were shepherded under the leadership of Barra when she previously led new product development. The goal is to have 47 percent of global sales to be fueled by these new models by 2019. Supply Chain Matters has also called reader attention to GM’s goal to further focus on the broader supply chain’s contribution to its renewed business goals.

This week, GM reported what is reported as better than expected financial results for the December-ending fourth quarter. While revenues slipped slightly, GM posted a noteworthy 91 percent increase in profit compared with the year prior quarter.

The full-year results also provided quantification of the costs of product recalls. GM reported $2.8 billion in costs associated with product recalls including the ignition-switch related recalls.  According to reports, GM will likely pay $9000 in profit-sharing to its upwards of 48,000 U.S. hourly employees, somewhat more than actual North American operating results to compensate for the impact of the product recalls.

Thus, at the conclusion of GM’s fiscal year, there is quantification of the specific financial costs of a previous corporate culture that eluded accountability and fostered functional fiefdoms. In what appears to be an increasing global trend, GM is considering appeasing its stockholders with plowing some profits in stock buy-back or increased dividend actions.

Moving forward in the new fiscal year, GM has to strengthen its supplier relationships and foster a climate of joint innovation and accountability for quality. We trust that such efforts would include more financial consideration toward stronger supplier relationships and an increased emphasis on joint quality management monitoring and remediation practices.

Billions of dollars expended in product recalls is better invested in addressing the root causes of either product design or supplier quality practices.

Bob Ferrari


Recall Fallout: Investments in Automotive Parts Traceability and Service Supply Chains

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Prediction Ten of our 2015 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains declares that service focused supply chains will garner increased attention and new investment interest. We noted two prime motivations, protecting the brand especially in the light of continuing massive amounts of product recall activity as well as taking advantage of the new opportunities brought forward with connected devices.

This week, in conjunction with the annual North American International Auto Show being held in Detroit, The Wall Street Journal featured an article, Massive Recalls Force Part Makers to Track Defects (Paid subscription of free metered view). The article observes that auto parts makers such as air bag inflator supplier Daicel are investing millions of dollars to improve tracing and lot identifiers of component parts. There are mentions of parts suppliers Aisin Selkl, and Jtekt Corp. significantly investing in parts traceability. Observed is while automotive OEM’s and their associated brands take the bulk of the consumer and regulatory heat around product recalls, quality defects more often reside within parts suppliers. OEM’s are now influencing parts suppliers to amp-up quality measures including easier means to identify production lots and trace parts history. The CEO of NHK Spring, who is also the chairmen of Japan Auto Parts Industries Association is quoted: “Now that supplier names are being mentioned widely, the range of responsibilities that we face is expanding. Not only do we need to face auto makers but also consumers.”  In other words, brand risk has taken on new dimensions in the lower tier of automotive supply chains.

It struck us that such efforts focused on supply practices need to be further complimented by increased capabilities by OEM’s to analyze such quality tracking and tracing data at a far more timely pace.  Providing more prescriptive tagging to such data is  a further consideration.

The takeaway is that indeed, service supply chains are indeed ripe for investment, but require coordinated efforts to leverage input, output and prescriptive information insights that insure more timely identification and response to parts quality or design defects.

Bob Ferrari


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