AIAG’s new co-chair of the Quality Steering Committee – Ford Motor Company’s Sunita Shahmehri – has deep roots in automotive. Recently recognized for 15 year of service in Ford’s Supplier Technical Assistance (STA) group, Sunita’s extensive family legacy at Ford includes her grandmother, mother, and stepfather, along with her brother, sister and husband.Sunita, who currently serves as Supplier Technical Assistance (STA) North America Operations Manager at Ford, joined the committee after Russ Hopkins retired, and was elected to her position as co-chair during the group’s December 2019 meeting. In addition to congratulating Sunita on her new appointment, we sat down with her to discuss the ways our industry is changing, why its important to work together toward common goals, and more. Read on for excerpts from our conversation!
Why do you think it’s important to come together at AIAG and participate in events or volunteer for other activities?
I think it’s really important for us to come together because we’re helping our industry learn. We’re all in this together – working to improve quality, reduce costs and make vehicles our customers want and can rely on – so being able to participate in events and communicate with other OEMs and suppliers makes our whole industry that much stronger.
I’ve been in STA (Supplier Technical Assistance) my whole career at Ford, and what I’ve really learned is that we’re the ‘assistance’ part. We’re there to help. The more we can work together, the better, because it’s not just an OEM and it’s not just a supplier – we’re all here, all the way down to Tier N, trying to make the automotive industry better. And we can’t do it without each other.
How do you keep up on what’s new and happening in the industry?
My biggest source of information is my interactions with PD engineers, STA engineers, and suppliers. A lot of my experience and what I hear is through my work because I’m dealing with suppliers and programs from the beginning all the way to the end – and I’ve been dealing with programs since 2013, so I see the changes that are coming in our powertrains and vehicles. Just being in some of those meetings and discussions, I hear about what other groups are struggling with and what they’ve done well. We deal with so many large suppliers, so especially being here at AIAG and dealing with some of the smaller ones, I really see the impact of our changes – and it makes a difference.
Based on your years of automotive experience, what current or emerging trends do you think are most urgent for the industry to prepare for?
Connected and autonomous vehicle trends are going to be very challenging for us, in terms of complexity and the software that needs to go into the vehicles. We also have a new generation coming up that is more focused on experiences versus material things – so we need to be agile enough to keep up with them, because they are our future customers. Making sure we meet their needs by staying connected and allowing them the freedom to hop in a car and do what they need to get done – I think those are just some of the new challenges for our industry.
What advice would you offer to those who are just starting out in the automotive industry?
Automotive is one of the most challenging industries, but it’s extremely rewarding when you see your vehicles go down the road and say, I helped make that happen. Even if you’re dealing with processes, everyone’s following your process – everyone’s doing what we agreed to do to get a vehicle on the road. No matter what part you’re working with, or process, or area in the automotive industry, you are making the world move. And that is something that has always amazed me – that even if you have the smallest little part in a vehicle, that’s important to the vehicle. So, my advice is to always take pride in what you do, pay attention to the details, and just know that you are making an impact on all of our customers.