WARREN, MI – General Motors in the next 18-24 months will put out for bid “hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth” of new parts-supply contracts, the automaker’s purchasing chief says, and he wants suppliers to bring their best ideas to him in return for longer, more profitable terms.

“We want to be the OEM of choice,” says Steve Kiefer, vice president-Global Purchasing and Supply Chain at GM. “We want to be the first stop when (suppliers) think of a new innovation. We want them to bring that to General Motors.”

The flood of new contracts comes as GM turns over product programs and launches all-new vehicles in its biggest product offensive since bankruptcy.

But while the automaker enjoys its greatest financial health in decades to fuel the offensive, it lacks sound relations with suppliers after years of demanding cut-rate pricing, missing on sales forecasts for products and refusing to share on cost savings. As a result, suppliers have shopped many of their best ideas to GM competitors.

Kiefer, like his predecessors Grace Lieblein and Bob Socia, desperately wants to change that dynamic at a time when consumer-pleasing innovations are flowing from parts makers more rapidly than ever.

Among key pieces of bait Kiefer intends to employ is a new strategic sourcing process, where suppliers are brought on board before a product program begins. And, perhaps even more importantly, the automaker is newly willing to offer multiple-generation contracts, which can expand a supplier’s profitability on a program from millions to billions of dollars.

GM’s rivals, such as supplier-relations leaders Toyota and Honda, often use open-ended contracts.

“We look at our suppliers as long-term partners,” says Victor Vanov, a Toyota manufacturing spokesman.

Says Kiefer: “The risk for the supplier is reduced, and they are able to bring their best ideas.”

GM, as Kiefer readily admits, has not been a go-to automaker for suppliers. The poor relations date back to the Jose Ignacio Lopez era of the 1990s when GM tried to remedy its shaky finances by draconian cost-cutting in the supplier sector.

It resulted in a decades-long hangover for GM, reflected in consistently poor grades in a closely watched supplier-relations study from Planning Perspectives. The Birmingham, MI-based consultant will release the annual report again in the coming weeks.

Last year, GM finished last among the Big Six automakers producing in the U.S. The study also estimated the automaker could increase its profitability by $400 million if its supplier relations improved 10%.

The report’s author, John Henke, told WardsAuto last year that while suppliers have heard the appeal for better relations from Kiefer and other GM executives, it never filtered down to the front lines, where the automaker’s buyers meet face-to-face with parts makers to hammer out contracts. Negotiations often can be bare-knuckle affairs.

Kiefer says GM since has ironed out those issues, using Planning Perspectives data and its own research to determine which commodity-buying groups are successful and unsuccessful.

“The data is quite clear and we’ve learned a lot,” Kiefer tells WardsAuto during a roundtable with journalists at the automaker’s tear-down facility here in the heart of its R&D campus.

One issue, Kiefer says, has been turnover at the buyer level. In some cases it has led to inexperienced buyers. “That has driven some friction, because perhaps we didn’t have the most-trained people at the point of interface.”