Despite the rapid growth of automobile industry in China, much remains to be known about the governance structure especially the inter-firm relationship within the Chinese automobile groups. Against China's changing institutional environment and compared to the established knowledge on automobile group governance in Japan, this study provides a case analysis of the evolving nature of inter-firm relationship in one of China's major automobile groups, Tianjin Automotive Group (TAG). A top-down hierarchical administration characterizes the inter-firm relationship in TAG before 1999 due to the heavy influence of the old institutional arrangement. Over time, especially entering 2000, weakening institutional ties between the state and TAG forced the group to be more responsive to market changes and to systematically learn Japanese-style supplier management from a joint venture with Toyota Group. The paper provides rare insights into the evolution of governance structure among the emerging Chinese automobile groups and extends the institution-based view of strategy into the studies of inter-firm relationship in automobile industry.