Sure, the chief executives of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG get to bask in the glow of a sunny U.S. economy that is fueling what could be a record year for automotive sales.

Take one step down the management ladder, however, and you find three guys who aren't quoted in the papers every day but still wield exceptional power. As purchasing chiefs, they have the fun job of spending most of the revenue that comes in to GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler (on parts for new vehicles, that is).

But they are saddled with the difficult task of saying "yea" or "nay" to the thousands of suppliers around the world who are dying (literally, in some cases) to do business with North America's largest automakers on their prosperous home turf. To a struggling partsmaker in Thailand, the U.S. must look like the promised land.

WAW spoke recently with GM's Harold R. Kutner, Ford's Carlos E. Mazzorin and DaimlerChrysler's Thomas W. Sidlik about their purchasing strategies.

By way of highlights, Mr. Kutner confides that he didn't much like GM's controversial "Current Savings" cost-reduction policy, and he says the General has a long way to go to improve Internet communication with suppliers. And no, we didn't blow a great chance to quiz him about his favorite issue: modularity.

With contract talks coming up, that topic was off-limits.

Mr. Mazzorin crows like a proud father about his company's Internet link with suppliers, and he discounts those nasty rumors about Ford strong-arming suppliers for 8% price cuts.

And the highly animated Mr. Sidlik, who caught himself using the antiquated term "Chrysler Corp." only a few times, talks about the push for a "third way" to handle purchasing at DaimlerChrysler. He also pats one supplier on the back for its astounding discovery when it went looking for waste.

Conducting the interviews were Editor Drew Winter and Senior Associate Editor Tom Murphy. Editor-at-Large David C. Smith assisted in the interviews with Mssrs. Kutner and Mazzorin.