Uncharted waters are often choppy and fraught with peril. Yet, as the early explorers discovered, once the journey is complete there are often untold riches to be found in new lands.

Although global sourcing is becoming more common, it was new territory three years ago when General Motors Corp.'s minivan purchasing team opened component bidding to companies worldwide.

One danger on the high seas of global sourcing was a more time-consuming process for some components. Riches discovered in purchasing's new world included lower parts costs and access to the brainpower of new suppliers.

"I think (the process) went extremely well," says John Sanchez, the minivan's purchasing program manager. "It was a learning process."

Some minivan suppliers complain that globalization of purchasing added so many new companies to the mix that it took longer to make sourcing decisions. This goes against the new trend of getting suppliers in sooner to make the process run more smoothly.

"In some cases it might have taken longer to get quotes out and in:" admits Mr. Sanchez. "It just means that we have to start earlier in the future."

Offsetting the delay, he says, GM invited key "cooperative suppliers" to work with its engineers so they could bounce ideas off them and discuss manufacturing processes without committment to the final component contract. "That happened sooner than in the past," he says.

"(The new process) made the market more competitive and we got more competitive quotes from suppliers," he adds. "It also brought more suppliers into the NAO supplier base."

Eighty of the vehicle's suppliers are based overseas. Twenty, says Mr. Sanchez, have put plants in North America to supply the vehicle. "A handful even located within a couple hours of the plant," he notes.

Because the European version -- Opel Sintra -- will come equipped with its own engine, the Opel people requested that Mr. Sanchez and his team use its suppliers, "even down to nuts and bolts:" to help reduce complexity.

European companies also are supplying the taillights, fascia, exhaust system and alternator. Each is a previous Opel supplier.

As much as the platform team may appreciate its new suppliers, an old favorite -- GM's Delphi Interior and Lighting -- also brought innovation to the table. Delphi came out on top in global sourcing battles for the new minivan's forward lighting (headlamps and turn signals), light-emitting diode (LED) center-mounted stop lamp, Super Plug door moddle, passenger-side air bag, steering wheel and driver air bag and power sliding door module.

To minivan retrofitting headlamps for export to Europe, Delphi designed them to meet both domestic and European standards. Delphi's new Super Plug plastic door module (which combines some 60 parts into one molded-plastic unit) helped the platform team meet its goals to reduce cost, complexity and assembly hours. Beyond that, Delphi worked with instrument panel supplier Textron Automotive to deliver an IP with the passenger-side air bag already installed.