Family Businessman: James Wingard Looks Back on Two Decades of Wingard Quality Supply

Tenn.-based Minority-Owned Business Recognized as a Leader in Tire-Wheel Assembly, Supplying Over 30-Million Assemblies Since 2002

(Jan. 26, 2022) Chattanooga, Tenn. – If you’ve parked a new vehicle in your driveway over the last 20 years, chances are, Wingard Quality Supply (“WQS”) had an important part in manufacturing it. That part is the fully assembled tire-wheel – or to be exact, all four of them (and the spare, too). Since opening its doors in 2002, WQS has supplied more than 30 million tire-wheel assemblies to some of the world’s largest automakers – a number that still surprises company president and second-generation owner, James Wingard, when he hears it.

“When my father first started WQS, he wanted to produce the highest quality, safest product, with a focus on customer satisfaction,” Wingard says. “We built our company on that foundation and it has served us well. Today, it remains our purpose.”

The ‘Godfather of Tire-Wheel Assembly’

With 45 years in the automotive industry, James’ father and WQS founder, Jesse Wingard is often dubbed the “Godfather of Tire-Wheel Assembly.” His career began at General Motors, working on the assembly line.  Later, he joined Ford Motor Company as a production team member, but with his strong leadership skills and operations acumen, Wingard quickly advanced to the management ranks becoming General Assembly Manager. He then returned to his General Motors roots joining New United Motors (NUMMI), a joint venture with Toyota in Fremont, Calif., from which he retired as Vice President.

In 2002, less than a year into his retirement, WQS was born.  

Early Years

Automotive sales were accelerating at a record pace when Wingard steered WQS into existence. His previous employer, NUMMI, became his first customer, with WQS supplying the manufacturer with some 1.7 million tire-wheel assemblies annually. WQS grew to a team of 38 people working two production shifts, five days a week.

The business was thriving in 2008 when Wingard’s son, James, joined WQS as vice president. But shortly after, the company faced its make-or-break moment as the Great Recession shuttered the auto industry. In 2009, the industry saw staggering sales slumps and unprecedented turmoil, presenting an uphill challenge to the relatively young supplier.

Its largest customer, NUMMI, closed its doors, which forced WQS to shut down its own operations for five months. During this time, however, the business made a game-changing decision that set the wheels in motion for where it is today. After being awarded new business with Volkswagen, in 2010, WQS relocated its operations and headquarters to Chattanooga, Tenn. At that same time, James Wingard took the helm as president and began leading his family’s company into its next chapter. 

Lessons Learned

Despite the challenges of those times, Wingard credits the 2009 recession for having prepared WQS for just about anything – including the last two years of the pandemic.

“In the automotive industry, there are always going to be volatile swings that manufacturers experience,” he said. “The recent supply chain shocks and chip shortages, though, have had an impact on the automotive industry unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. As a supplier, the best way to hedge against these downturns is to stay true to who you are and what you do best. For us, that’s lean manufacturing.”

Thanks to the firsthand manufacturing experience the company was founded on and access to expert training (a perk of its long-term relationship with Toyota Tsusho America, Inc.), WQS is a leader in lean. As such, the company shares its knowhow with other tire-wheel assemblers and helps to elevate the best ideas in the industry through peer collaboration.

“In teaming up with WQS, Toyota Tsusho has been able to meaningfully expand its network of services and capabilities in North America,” said Mike Lavender, Senior Vice President, Toyota Tsusho America, Inc. “But more importantly, over the last 20 years, we have learned from each other and used our collective knowhow to better serve our customers and our communities.”

“Wingard Quality Supply is not only a leader in business, but also a valued leader in the community,” said Charles Wood, Vice President for Economic Development, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. “Through its involvement in the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the company has contributed to economic development and talent and workforce initiatives, as well as our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.  At the same time, WQS continues to grow living wage jobs in our community and plays a key role in our automotive industry.”

All in the Family

Growing up in Elyria, Ohio with both parents employed in the automotive industry, Wingard says he was destined for the work he does today. It is also why he has never shied away from jumping in on the production floor and helping out when needed. “There have been many days where we have been short on our production line and my natural instinct is to roll my sleeves up and assist on the line and fill any gaps,” Wingard said.

But the success WQS has seen the last two decades, he says, goes beyond know-how, work ethic and a love for the industry. It comes down to a passion for creating a lasting opportunity for future generations of his family.

“WQS has been in my family for 20 years and preserving this company for future generations of Wingards is something that I am very passionate about,” he said. “Being able to educate my sons and teaching them lessons on how to run a business is something that as a father, adds significant value to waking up and going into work every day.”

20 Years and Counting

As WQS gears up for the next 20 years and beyond, the company continues not only to be a leader in tire-wheel assembly but has also grown its services and capabilities to include warehousing, logistics and support for electric vehicle production, as demand in these areas rapidly increases. 

The company is also taking time to celebrate. To commemorate the milestone, WQS will soon be unveiling a special logo. In appreciation of the contributions of the WQS team, employees will be the first to don the new logo on exclusive company apparel. The company will also honor its employees at a special ceremony later this month.

But turning 20, Wingard says, is much more than just a number or a one-day celebration. “In business, growing old is a status symbol – especially in the automotive industry,” he said. “I am beyond proud of the work we do at WQS, what we’ve accomplished and overcome together, and the team I get to do this work with. There were times when the odds were not in our favor, but we never gave up. This milestone is as much about where we have been as it is where we are headed.”

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About Wingard Quality Supply, LLC. (“WQS”) – Wingard Quality Supply, LLC is a second generation minority-owned company.  A Tennessee Minority Supplier Development Council Certified Automotive Parts Manufacturing supplier, Wingard Quality Supply is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee along with its subsidiary company, Wingard Wheel Works, LLC, an Indiana Minority Supplier Development Council Certified Automotive Parts Manufacturing supplier.  Both companies offer services in logistics management and procurement for automotive manufacturers. At Wingard, our assembly process enables us to produce tire wheel assemblies, built and delivered in sequence, while offering the highest manufacturing quality and safety standards. Learn more at: https://wingardllc.com/

About Toyota Tsusho America, Inc. (“TAI”) – With 60+ years in America, Toyota Tsusho America, Inc., together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a multi-market, multi-business enterprise with expertise in exporting and importing, supply chain management, new manufacturing, intermediate goods processing and logistics in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. With a combined team of nearly 5,000 and 78 locations across North America, the TAI group strives for comprehensive excellence by cultivating a vibrant culture of creativity, reliability, accountability, flexibility, and teamwork to activate the full potential of its employees, customers, suppliers, and communities. For more information, visit: www.taiamerica.com.

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