International product development in automotive industry: mapping and improvement suggestions from a customer satisfaction perspective

Getrag All Wheel Drive AB (GAWD) in Köping, Sweden today develops, manufactures and sells All Wheel Drive (AWD) systems to the private car industry. However it has not always been like this. Before 2004, the very same plant was a subsidiary company of Volvo Car Corporation, sourcing its need of manual transmissions and AWD systems. Since now having all car manufacturers as potential customers GAWD at the same time is affected by the free market competition from other AWD systems manufacturers. It is now even more important to be efficient and make operations right the first time, to keep present customers and also gain new ones.

About the same time as GAWD was formed, it became a member of an international GETRAG product development process, with a North American car manufacturer as external customer. It is important to learn from this project since the manners and customs of the customer are not previously known to GAWD. The purpose of this master thesis has been to identify structural problem areas as well as making improvement suggestions regarding quality assurance of GAWD’s product development. This has been achieved by focusing on findings at GAWD and the expectations of its in-house customer in the United States, GETRAG Axle Plant (GAP).

After making interviews, observations and a focus group workshop, the problem areas communication with customer and supplier, involvement in supplier choice and insufficiently preset prerequisites were identified. The effect has been time consuming misunderstandings, role ambiguity, lack of motivation and misinterpretation of some customer expectations.

GAWD is recommended to standardize work within its GETRAG supply chain members to set target and define scope together, toward optimal GETRAG customer satisfaction at the lowest use of resources. This can be achieved if day to day work is based upon strong leadership committed to quality, collaboration, communication and evaluations among the supply chain companies. The study shows a need for an early project team kick-off meeting, attended by a cultural agent teaching ways towards effective collaboration and communication. GAWD should focus on improving the commitment of the steering team and coordination of communication among purchasing and project organisations. The later is directly proportional to the quality of communication with the customer and affects the potential dissatisfaction the most. GAWD should further assume that the customer does not know about Swedish culture or operations until proven otherwise. Organisational changes in line with thesis result have been made at GAWD during this research process, which is evidence of continuous improvement activities.

Author: Jönsson, Johan

Source: Lulea University of Technology

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