By Klaus-Dieter FlÃ¶recke and Harald Hamprecht, AutomobileWoche
STUTTGART -- Mercedes-Benz has increased pressure on its suppliers to produce better components.
It's part of the automaker's push to counter quality problems that have led to recalls and poor showings in customer satisfaction reports.
Mercedes has written to several hundred powertrain-sector partsmakers warning them that they will face much tougher quality guidelines and possible contract termination if they deliver faulty parts.
The quality offensive soon will be extended to all the carmakers' component suppliers.
A letter obtained by Automobilwoche from Mercedes' purchasing quality management department warns suppliers of powertrain parts that if random checks on their components reveal any faults, Mercedes will demand:
- >Daily reports from the supplier
- Quality checks on every single part that leaves the warehouse
- Individual labeling detailing a component's 20-day production history.
"We are not penalizing suppliers," said a Mercedes spokesperson. "It is a joint search for solutions and a concrete example of how our new quality offensive is being put into practice."
Mercedes is initially targeting partsmakers that have sparked concern about quality during recent assessments as well as suppliers that have been queried repeatedly about quality issues.
Harald BÃ¶lstler, Mercedes' head of purchasing, strongly criticized some partsmakers at a recent meeting organized by Mer-cedes for its suppliers.
Said one supplier executive invited to the meeting: "Mercedes is playing hardball now."
Mercedes is holding workshops during which suppliers have to describe -- down to the last detail -- the measures they are taking to ensure the quality of their parts.
The automaker also has demanded that major suppliers of electronic components increase module and integration tests at their own expense.
Some suppliers are worried that they may be blamed for faults introduced after they have delivered their components.
An executive at Robert Bosch pointed out that Bosch could deliver a faultless part, but the component could become faulty if Mercedes made software changes shortly before production start-up.
Plagued by electronics problems in its cars, Mercedes has seen its much-vaunted image for quality fall sharply.
In April, Mercedes announced its biggest recall, bringing in 1.3 million vehicles to fix electronics and braking problems. In May 2004, the automaker recalled 680,000 vehicles to check the electronic braking system that failed on some E- and SL-class models.
Mercedes has slipped to No. 28 in the key J.D. Power and Associates survey's vehicle dependability ranking in the US and to No. 11 in initial customer satisfaction in Germany.