DEARBORN – Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp. merging? Ford Motor Co. uniting with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and DaimlerChrysler AG marrying up with Honda Motor Co. Ltd.?

Those, and other bold – perhaps off-the-wall and off the mark – predictions and spirited debate are generated by a panel of industry experts at a recent automotive conference here.

Lear’s purchasing chain ends with Vice Chairman Vanderberghe

Admitting he has no insider information, Jay Alix, co-founder and managing principal of turnaround expert Questor Management Co. LLC predicts, “Ten to 15 years from now, you’ll see Toyota and General Motors merge, Ford and Nissan merge, and DaimlerChrysler and Honda merge. There’ll be BMW and maybe a couple of the specialty makes, but the global marketplace will be controlled by those three companies.”

And don’t worry about culture clash. Alix says these new Japanese-American and Japanese-American-German auto makers will get along just swimmingly. They’ll take best practices from each side, he says, and operate neither the Toyota nor GM way, but a new way.

Alix, the most vocal presence during the discussion, also delights the audience by trading barbs with other panelists, including Lear Corp. Vice Chairman Jim Vanderberghe.

Vanderberghe says that many of the suppliers Lear has tried to fix but failed to save from bankruptcy probably didn’t have good business models to begin with.

And “didn’t do the right thing to get there,” interjects Alix. “Except for the ones that called us. We fixed them.”

“Well, we fixed one of them that you fixed,” Vanderberghe shoots back.

Replies Alix: “If we have a problem that’s so bad that we have to sell it to somebody else, we consider that a fix on our side.”

Later, Alix rubs Decoma International CEO Alan Power the wrong way, insisting that a supplier should never walk away from business.

“We’ll never accept a contract we’ll lose money on,” says Power. “If it’s not good for our company, ultimately, it’s not good for our customers. There are times there may be some bad will be left behind when you walk away from the table, but I think that bad will is far better than the situation that’s left behind, if we get into a business that’s not profitable for us.”

“If you don’t want the work, just raise the price,” says Alix.

“I think that’s the same as saying no,” Power says, drawing laughter from the audience.

Alix counters that suppliers always should put an offer on the table, because when the low-bidder messes up a contract, the customer will come back.

“And when they come back to you, they know they have to pay that price to get it done,” he says.

But Alix isn’t the only one who draws some heat.

Vanderberghe takes a hit as an audience questioner asks tongue-in-cheek how Lear’s suppliers can have the same type of warm and understanding relationship Vanderberghe says Lear has with its customers.

“You’re not on that 30 companies list, are you?” Vanderberghe retorts, alluding to a previously mentioned list of unnamed problem suppliers to Lear.

Then he adds, “I think it starts with purchasing. If you’re not getting the desired results working with our purchasing organization, you’re certainly free to work up the organization. And I’m happy to talk to you, too. At the end of that purchasing chain is me.”