When you climb into your car, it’s hard to realize that you’re climbing into a heap of sand, glass, iron ore and petroleum. But those are its key components and it takes a lot to get them all together into a vehicle that is an integral part of modern life. 

It’s quite amazing that the automobile is taken so much for granted when you think about the manufacturing of all of its parts and how they are assembled.

Of course, things can go wrong. In 2014, automakers recalled a record 63.9 million vehicles in the U.S., more than any year in history.

What kinds of things went wrong: exploding airbags that projected shrapnel, ignition switches that switched off on their own, and unintended accelerations…for starters.

What is amazing is that the consensus among safety experts, according to industry reports, is that vehicles are safer than ever. The experts cite declining traffic injuries and fatality rates as proof.

Safety is the top priority of every car company that competes for five-star safety ratings from the federal government and top rankings from organizations such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

And you can’t discount the importance of seat belts, airbags, electronic stability controls to improve the safety of the average vehicle and to save lives.

Nevertheless, “it’s a challenging time,” says Scott Gray, a senior program manager at the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), a non-profit composed of retailers, suppliers, automakers manufacturers, service providers, educational institutions, government agencies, and the list goes on.

AIAG was formed in 1982 by the three largest North American automotive manufacturers of the time: Chrysler, Ford and General Motors and its membership has grown to include Japanese companies such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan, and many of their parts suppliers and services providers.

Mr. Gray was hired two years ago by AIAG to oversee the association’s quality products and services which support quality improvement throughout the supply chain.

He was invited by the Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association to speak at its Feb. 17 meeting in LaGrange near to the Kia Motors Corp. plant in nearby West Point and all of the suppliers that have moved to the area in support of that operation.

Following his technical talk in which he reviewed initiatives to exact quality systems being created through the supply chain, he told Global Atlanta that there are “no silver bullets” to limit the number of recalls.

“If the great recession taught us anything, it’s how truly interdependent we are as an industry. I’m optimistic about the actions that I see companies taking,” he said. “They are more open to the best practices and they are collaborating and cooperating.”

Yet as the number of technological innovations provided by the global supply base accelerates he is witnessing an increasing percentage of vehicle parts and components being designed and manufactured “by new suppliers that don’t have a traditional automotive background.”

Declining to address the ambitions in the auto industry of either Google Inc. or Apple Inc., he went on to say that the auto supply base has access to great tools and very robust processes but must have the discipline to apply the tools correctly and dutifiully follow these processes. The possibility of the breakdown of a single part of these very complex systems can create havoc and could result in a warranty campaign.

The best solution that he offered is “thoroughly understand your customers’ requirements, robust and collaborative advanced quality planning and constant oversight to drive continuous improvement.”

He also has a good deal of faith in the ISO/TS 16949 quality management system requirements for automotive suppliers throughout the supply chain. 

These technical specifications are to prevent defects and reduce unnecessary complexity and waste throughout the supply chain.

And he is encouraged that the International Automotive Task Force composed of automotive manufacturers from around the world and their respective trade association was formed to develop global quality system requirements.

Its members include the BMW Group, Chrysler Group, Daimler AG, Fiat Group Automobile, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., PSA Peugeot Citroen, Renault SA, Volkswagen AG and the vehicle manufacturers respective trade associations — AIAG in the U.S., ANFIA in Italy, FIEV in France, SMMT in the United Kingdom and VDA in Germany.

In view that the AIAG is located in Southfield, Mich., what is virtually a suburb of Detroit, it seemed logical to ask how he felt about the rise of the Southeast as an automotive center.

Without being defensive, he acknowledged the investments by auto manufactures, especially European and Asian, in the region, but he is far from being convinced that the center of the auto industry in the U.S. will shift this way.

“It is hard for me to imagine that the center would ever shift completely from the Midwest to the Southeast,” he said. “There is so much capital invested in the Midwest when you consider all the tool shops and manufacturing equipment that goes into factories. On the other hand, we’ve clearly had a population shift to the Southeast and from a vehcile assembly perspective, companies have been following the advice of the great Henry Ford..’build’em where they buy ’em’.”

Having said that, he praised the role of the Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association and other similar associations in the Southeast.

“There is a great need for associations that can ‘show how,’” he said. But the supply chain network is so broad that you also need organizations that ‘know who.” “We’re committed to working together with GAMA to the benefit of our memberes and the industry,” he added.

Upcoming GAMA programs include a meeting on Wednesday, March 11, at the Hampton Inn & Suites-Lanett/West Point at 4210 Phillips Road in Lanett, Ala. The topic is “OSHA’s Regional Emphasis Program,” targeting automotive suppliers in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

GAMA also is participating in the Global Automotive Supply Chain Leaders’ Conference at the Porsche Cars North America Inc. headquarters next to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on April 28 and 29. 

Attendees will have the opportunity to test drive Porsche vehicles on the company’s test track.

To learn more about these events, click here.