Ford, GM and Chrysler are getting along with their suppliers better than they used to.
But an annual study says the companies have a ways to go to catch up with their Japanese counterparts.
John Henke is President of Planning Perspectives, which studies the working relationship between parts suppliers and their customers, the car companies.
He says that relationship has long been adversarial for the Detroit Three, which means suppliers often don’t give them the best prices for parts, or the first crack at new technologies.
"Suppliers (also) differentiate as to who gets their best people, the resources, when the resources are limited," says Henke, noting it's human nature to do more for people you trust and have a good relationship with, than for people you don't.
Henke says Ford has made the most progress at improving its relationship with its suppliers. And even though suppliers still feel Toyota and Honda treat them best, he says their opinion of those companies has slipped in recent years because of the Japanese automakers’ cost-cutting efforts.
The survey compiles results into an index of 100 to 500, with 100 meaning the supplier-OEM relationship is very poor, and 500 meaning the relationship is very good.
Toyota's index was 327 in 2011. Honda came next, at 309. Ford's rating was 271 followed by Nissan at 247, GM at 236, and Chrysler at 221.
Suppliers have long perceived General Motors among their least trusted customers. GM's current index rating of 236 is a dramatic improvement from its low of 114 in 2005. That's the worst mark suppliers gave a car company in the eleven years the study has been conducted.