BRUSSELS - An industry-sponsored 'pipeline' designed to handle online purchasing sites like the one General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler plan is having trouble signing up European suppliers.
The European Network Exchange (ENX) and its American equivalent (ANX) are designed to make web transactions secure by offering a robust, semi-private Internet service.
That could go a long way in calming suppliers' fears about the confidentiality of bids and information handled by new online purchasing and data exchanges. But ENX desperately needs to attract new industry members if it is to meet its target of linking up with ANX by the end of the year.
Just 50 users - primarily in Germany - have signed up to the exchange. Project organizers believe ENX needs to attract a third of Europe's 11,000 auto suppliers to make a profit.
ENX, the pan-European 'pipeline,' promises to link automakers and suppliers with their customers through a secure electronic data network.
By the end of the year, ENX project leaders plan to create a network capable of transmitting data as simple as e-mail and as complicated as technical drawings, purchasing bids and engineering projects. This would allow it to link up with ANX, and later to networks in Asia and Australia.
ENX networks in Germany and France were connected in January. The goal is to link Spain in the spring and the UK in the summer. Italy
hasn't established an ENX pipeline yet, but Fiat is expected to accelerate its participation following its alliance with General Motors.
GM has joined with Ford and DCX to create the world's largest online purchasing company. But efforts to put the European auto industry online are being slowed by different languages, multiple telephone carriers, geography, high local telephone charges and security concerns.
'It was a lot simpler to unify the American car industry than it is to unify Europe,' said Hans Georg Mues, who heads the ENX project.
Mues is based in Frankfurt where he is senior manager at the VDA, the German association of carmakers and suppliers. The VDA is heading the ENX project in Europe.
ENX and ANX use the physical network of the public Internet. To keep transmissions secure, they permit access - for a fee and using a communications partner - only to certified carmakers and suppliers.
ENX and ANX can do the same job as the more costly EDI (electronic data interchange) systems currently used by automakers and suppliers. Unlike EDI, ENX and ANX users can access the websites they want from personal computers.
ENX monthly fees charged by partner Deutsche Telecom in Germany start at DM1,248 (A632) for companies that use it for e-mail or simple messages. Fees rise to DM12,223 a month for users transmitting complicated data.
ENX started in January 1998 as a VDA project on the insistence of the European subsidiaries of GM, Ford and Chrysler. The founding members of ENX, which include Ford, GM, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, BMW and Robert Bosch, signed a partnership agreement with the understanding there would be a link with ANX.
There are now 16 companies on the governing board of ENX, including both suppliers and carmakers.
It was originally expected that the US and European networks would be connected last December.
'It didn't happen because the problems were underestimated,' said Mues, who was previously involved in logistics management at Bosch.
Southern European makers want the pan-European pipeline, but are not anxious to complete the link with ANX, say the VDA. The US market is not a priority for the southern Europeans because they sell few or no cars in North America and don't use many suppliers there.
'We have to pressure the Italian, Spanish and French partners,' said Mues. 'We can't wait any longer.'
Without the US connection, ENX may be of little use to the big global suppliers who are being lured by GM, Ford and DCX. The three makers are trying to create the world's biggest online purchasing company by the end of the year. The plan is to use ANX and ENX as the pipeline.
'There is a lot of pressure from the Americans to hold us to our promises and have ENX installed,' said Mues.
Global suppliers are also applying pressure. 'A link between ENX and ANX is mandatory, although we are not at present convinced of the success of ANX itself,' said a spokeswoman for Bosch in Germany.
ANX has signed up about 300 users.
The failure of ENX would give other companies, or a consortium of telecommunications companies, the opportunity to set up an extranet for the European automotive industry, said Mues. He added: 'The auto industry will not have control (of that operation) and we won't have the kind of success we want.'