More stories related to Supply Lines

From supplier bankruptcies and soaring raw-material costs to global logistics and the eternal hunt for the best price, purchasing departments have become pivotal to the success – and survival – of North American auto makers. Ward’s 6-part series stems from interviews with the purchasing chiefs of GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda. Today is Part 2.

WARREN, MI – With the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups hardly setting the world on fire with craftsmanship, quality or vibrant styling, General Motors Corp. faced a big challenge regarding parts sourcing decisions for its entry-luxury Hummer H3 program.

The three vehicles share the GMT355 platform and are built on the same line at GM’s Shreveport, LA, assembly plant, which limited the auto maker’s options for differentiating the upscale H3 from the affordably priced Colorado and Canyon.

The H3, with a starting price some $14,000 higher than its platform mates, needed to maintain Hummer’s bold exterior styling while significantly upgrading interior appointments.

Judging by the initial response to the H3, GM has succeeded.

H3 program chief Brooks Stover praises Siegel-Robert’s grille.

“(The H3) shares very few components (with the Colorado and Canyon),” Brooks Stover, Hummer H3 vehicle line director, tells Ward’s here at GM’s Technical Center. “We were trying hard to avoid the phrase, ‘derived from the 355.’ Less than 15% of the parts are common. The (3.5L 5-cyl.) engine is common, but most of the remaining 15% of the parts are fasteners, little brackets and so on.”

A significant portion of the H3 program focused on the SUV’s interior. “Everything is new,” says Stover. “The instrument clusters are in the same place. So we didn’t have to retool the whole instrument cluster. But the graphics are different, the appearance is different and the (gauge) needles are different. The controls are unique. The door trims are unique. No glass is common with the (pickups).”

GM worked with Intier Automotive Inc. (instrument panel carrier and door trim), Collins & Aikman Corp. (carpet), Johnson Controls Inc. (seats) and other suppliers to ensure better fit-and-finish, comfortable seating and an upscale atmosphere.

“In the interior, we set out to be world class, and we had rigorous objectives for the dimensional fit of every component of the instrument panel,” Stover says. Intier helped GM achieve first-rate fit on the IP, especially in the airbag integration, which was a major challenge.

“The reason it’s a challenge is that on most vehicles using this kind of visual appearance, the airbag is attached to the IP. So you only have tolerance between two parts,” Stover says. “Our airbag is attached to the IP carrier, the structure behind. And the IP is attached to the structure behind, so we have an extra set of variation.”

JCI contributed contrasting piping on the seats with the H3’s optional all-leather interior. “We all looked at it and said: ‘We’re just asking for a challenge if those things aren’t uniform or straight,’” recalls Stover.

JCI took on the challenge and we had an excellent quality control process with them with intervals throughout the development,” he says. “We reviewed the progress on the seat construction of all the components. We got it into production without a problem and we’re very happy with it.”

The H3 cabin appears to be a success, having recently won the Interior of the Year Award for popularly priced trucks at the 2005 Auto Interiors show presented by Ward’s.

On the exterior, Stover gives credit to Siegel-Robert Automotive, which supplies the signature grille. Achieving a clean fit with the expansive hood was a challenge. “This grille has to be very accurately made,” and Siegel-Robert was up to the task, Stover says.

“I don’t know if it is the biggest but it certainly is one of the biggest plated plastic parts in the industry,” he says. “This is all one piece across the entire grille.”

The H3 also needed ample fender flares to accommodate 33-in. tires and a tight turning radius. GM wanted the fender flares to be plastic, yet look like steel. Accepting the challenge was Flex-N-Gate Forming Technologies LLC.

“This is the largest plastic piece that’s been used by GM, integrated with the vehicle,” Stover says. “Flex-N-Gate helped us figure out how we are going to do this.”

The supplier also worked around-the-clock to solve a problem that surfaced late in the program. The fender flares weren’t lining up exactly when attached to the body, so the supplier helped devise an adjustable fixture set, which ensures a proper fit.

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com