Before the Great Crash, North American automakers and suppliers generally feuded over component prices. Nowadays, intellectual property rights may be the new flash point.
Peter Marks, CEO of Robert Bosch's North American operations, tells us that some automakers -- he won't name names -- are asserting ownership of any technology developed jointly with a supplier.
This prevents suppliers from selling their technology to other automakers -- which, in turn, prevents suppliers from creating economies of scale that would allow them to cut their prices.
"We've tried to limit [such agreements] to a very few pieces of our intellectual property," Marks said in an interview. "It's not an easy issue."
Another executive, who works for a major global supplier, tells us Chrysler has made such demands.
Asked about that claim, Chrysler spokeswoman Katie Hepler says our anonymous source failed to point out that Chrysler asserts such control only when it funds development of that technology.
"Our position is very clear: If we pay for the development of intellectual property, we do receive a license for the application of it into our products," Hepler wrote in an e-mail.
Last summer Chrysler circulated a draft of its new contract language to suppliers before adopting it. Hepler said the contract "has been received very well by a majority of our suppliers, and we feel that it provides both parties adequate protection."
By all accounts, Chrysler has vastly improved relations with its suppliers. But as technology evolves at a breakneck pace, this seems likely to remain a hot-button issue.