Harold Kutner has Rick Wagoner's old office in Warren, MI, the one he occupied as president of North American Operations before his ascension to chief executive of General Motors Corp.

Thomas Sidlik used to have an office in the Chrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, MI, and now has an office with a view of the Chrysler pentastar on the prestigious 15th floor of the headquarters building.

Co-Chairman Bob Eaton's departure opened room on the top floor for Mr. Sidlik to share space with his three fellow U.S. members of DC's Board of Management.

Carlos Mazzorin also has a sparkling new office on the 11th floor of Ford Motor Co. headquarters in Dearborn, MI, a flight of stairs away from President Jac Nasser and Chairman Bill Ford Jr. Mr. Mazzorin was promoted in January to group vice president of global purchasing and of Ford's vast - and troubled - South American operations. How do you resolve your toughest problems? Go to your purchasing guy.

Automakers are going to the purchasing guys on a regular basis as suppliers gain prominence with modularity and as the purchasing department drives the future of e-commerce - the auto industry's newfound wonder drug. Plus, purchasing is the conduit through which true efficiency is driven to the lowest levels of the supply chain.

That's why Mr. Kutner, a group vice president, got tapped last year for the monumental task of ushering GM into a Web-based environment that, in theory, will make the clumsy giant agile and customer-friendly. His worldwide purchasing functions have been handed down to Bo Andersson, the new executive in charge who arrives from GM Europe purchasing after three years with Saab AB and after 12 years as a Swedish military officer. Mr. Andersson gets Mr. Kutner's old North American Operations office in Warren, MI.

Sure, a new office is only a place to toil away long hours. But in this business, plum digs are symbolic. They say that the office holder has gained a certain level of influence, a certain eminence that comes with routinely spending dollars by the billions.

The transplant automakers in the U.S. also are emphasizing purchasing. Toyota Motor Corp. has tapped its North American purchasing operation to create an online network for its 350 parts and components suppliers. Honda Motor Co. Ltd. has managed to set up purchasing organizations, including North America, that source more than 90% of parts for every platform from local and regional suppliers (see sidebars p. 55 and 56).

Purchasing chiefs have been gaining clout within their organizations and throughout the industry. Ever since GM's Inaki Lopez (see Editorial, p.7), they have been revered and reviled. They have scooted suppliers closer to the product development table while relentlessly wielding the price-cutting ax. A purchasing chief, like no one else, can determine whether a supplier thrives or survives.

If you could grant a supplier CEO a 10-minute audience with his choice of either Jac Nasser or Carlos Mazzorin, it wouldn't be a tough decision. Carlos would get the call.

"I consider purchasing the big enabler," Mr. Mazzorin says. "Between Ford and the suppliers, the partners and the technology - they know how to make it happen."