That trust that automakers have worked so hard to rekindle among their parts suppliers? It's slipping away again.
An industry survey shows that automakers' desire for hot, new vehicle technologies is stirring suppliers' suspicion and mistrust. Many say they are increasingly wary of sharing technical ideas and innovations with customers.
And now some suppliers that have developed key technologies are withholding their expertise from automakers with which they have poor relationships.
"Suppliers are more and more concerned about their intellectual property," said Bill Forsythe, a principal at consulting firm Deloitte. "Technology has become a differentiator in the marketplace."
The warning shows up in the newly released biennial North American Suppliers' Choice Study by Deloitte and Automotive News.
According to the study, suppliers said this year that they lost some trust in the four automakers that rank highest as customers — BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Toyota.
Those companies received top grades out of 15 North American automakers.
The study asked 110 suppliers, including some from Canada, to rate their customers based on five factors: openness, trust, incentives, willing- ness to implement innovations and ease of working relations.
The results indicate that automakers are slipping in the estimation of their suppliers.
Overall, the industry's score for all five factors was 568 on a scale of 100 to 1,000, down from 578 two years ago. Even the industry's top-ranked customer, BMW, suffered a steep decline with a score of 654, down from 707 two years ago.
The index for trust, considered the most important factor, totaled 583 this year, down sharply from 628 two years ago.
The biggest factor for the general downturn was that lack of trust, Forsythe said.
The results suggest the industry may be in for some bumpy supply-chain sailing as it hurriedly rethinks how autos are going to operate, what they are going to look like and how they are going to be manufactured in the coming decade.
The new consensus is that suppliers with innovative solutions are going to gain more power in dealings with automakers.