General Motors Corp. officials deny that their new ambassador program is aimed at repairing Gm's reputation as the domestic automaker with the worst supplier-OEM relations. The No. 1 automaker concedes, however, that the initiative, announced in Toronto in April, will improve communication between GM and its vendors. "I'm not sure we'll ever be the best-liked customer in the world," says Harold Kutner, GM's worldwide purchasing chief, explaining that the company will continue to use its current procurement processes. "(This program) is more of an opportunity to make sure (supplier) business plans jive with ours and encourage relationship and team building."

The basics of the ambassador program include assigning a GM purchasing executive to each supplier (not necessarily the person the vendor works with regularly. The executive will meet with company representatives to discuss any problems or new ideas the supplier might have.

"Most of us have reasonably good contacts with our customers at GM, but it might not hurt to have a sounding board," says Joseph Corace, president and CEO at sunroof manufacturer Inalfa Hollandia Inc., who as of press time had not been contacted by GM about the program. "If it works as well as the Saturn Supplier Council you can really diffuse a hell of a lot of problems -- problems that fester if they don't get talked about."

NAO President G. Richard Wagoner admits that GM has not taken advantage of the capabilities offered by its supply base. "This is a way to get ideas into us and improve communications," he says.

A Johnson Controls Inc. spokesman says his company thinks the ambassador program is a great concept on the surface. JCI has been assigned its liaison and has made initial contacts. "The key is implementation and execution of the idea," says the spokesman.

Mr. Corace says he has noticed that in the past few months GM seems to be trying harder to improve supplier relationships. Donald Walker, president of Magna Corp., agrees. "GM today is infinitely easier to work with than three or four years ago," he says.