A funny thing happened to Thomas Stallkamp, vice chairman and chief executive officer of MSX International, the other day as he was serving three of his customers.

One was an automaker that was developing new body panels, the other was a Tier 1 supplier working on an instrument panel and the third was a Tier 2 supplier of wiring harnesses. MSX was helping each customer separately with collaborative engineering efforts for each product.

Come to find out, all three customers were working on the same vehicle for a European OEM, to launch in three years. The opportunities to truly collaborate across all three levels were obvious.

“When we realized this, we decided that working jointly across the chain with all three would result in system savings in cost and time,” Mr. Stallkamp, the former Chrysler Corp. president, says in his Wednesday speech.

While the anecdote illustrates the need for collaborative engineering -- a service MSX provides – it also illustrates the shortcomings.

“It’s discouraging because the work was placed with us separately, and it was unintentional,” Mr. Stallkamp tells Ward’s. “If you plan it, you can really get some savings out of it.”

At MSX, Mr. Stallkamp, the pioneer of Chrysler’s “extended enterprise,” continues his work toward more productive supplier relations, as MSX also helps automaker and supplier customers manage their supply chains and monitor quality.

As an aside, Mr. Stallkamp says he understands why General Motors Corp. is picking individual interior systems integrators to assume control of interiors for future vehicles. But he sees the move as too sudden.

“Suppliers aren’t ready for it. A lot of Tier 1 suppliers raised their hands for this, and now it’s a feeding frenzy for this module sourcing for GM,” Mr. Stallkamp says.

“I’m not sure the suppliers have thought it through, either. A lot of our clients are saying, ‘Oops, I’ve got to add this, and I’ve got to add that.’ And that affects their profitability.”

And even though the top interior suppliers have said they could handle complete interiors, Mr. Stallkamp has his doubts.

“I don’t think they’ve understood the total system cost of it. I know we’re working with one right now about how he’s going to handle the procurement for all this stuff.”