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The Motor City Mirage

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by Sierra Mike, Dec 28, 2002.

  1. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Going through a print edition of The New Yorker (November 25, 2002), I came across a one-pager on The Financial Page which dealt with US car manufacturing. Now, I personally don't feel The New Yorker is a bias-free publication, especially when detailing the seamy side of Corporate America. But a few factoids did hit me:

    I read this, and I was like, What?! You mean after all this time, we still suck at building cars?

    A more telling portent of dread actually came earlier in the article, but I glossed over it the first pass and returned to it to recalibrate my indignation:

    Frankly, this pisses me off. Even if it's not true, the haunting legacy of automobiles constructed with planned obsolence in mind is enough to convince me it is true. We're Americans, damn it! You mean we can't build a better automobile than the Japanese, when we were the ones who helped them launch their auto industry?

    More recent, real time data comes from The Far Eastern Review:

    Nissan is kicking our ass? I remember when Nissan was still Datsun, which we all called "Dat-shit." Now they're kicking our butts all over the place?

    Damn. Give me a multimillion-dollar salary like former GM CEO Jack Smith, so I too can put forth witty bon mots such as: "Success itself breeds the roots of complacency, myopia, and, ultimately, decline."

    Actually, one of my first public utterances would be: "I've just reduced my own salary and hired 50 Japanese engineers. We're taking our industry back."

  2. HaYwIrE

    HaYwIrE Banned

    We pay our workers in the factories what they're worth, while the Japanese...
  3. tke711

    tke711 Oink Oink Staff Member

    Actually, what is even more sad Steve, is that the Japanese Auto Makers are kicking our ass with American employees in American plants. Toyota, Honda and Nissan all have plants here stateside.

    Mmmm...I wonder. Are the Japanese auto plants here in the USA union shops?
  4. FrankF

    FrankF #55170-054

    A former brother-in-law use to work at a transmission casting plant in the midwest for one of the big three American car manufacturers (sorry, not going to open myself up to a libel suit).

    His stories about rampant drug dealing during work and in the parking lot, and employees getting high and even drunk during work hours helps me understand why it would take 41 hours to build a car. Also helps explain why Japanese and German cars generally last longer.
  5. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Oh yeah, that must be it. More Yellow Peril xenophobia. Extremely untrue, at least in Japan--auto workers have some pretty decent lifestyles.

  6. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Well, the source frightens the hell out of me, but there is this.

  7. Stiofan

    Stiofan Master Po

    I remember back in the early eighties the true story (or maybe just a good urban legend) about Detroit switching from an American parts supplier to one from Japan. They instructed the supplier to make sure they delivered the parts with the usual 3% failure rate. They received their first shipment boxed up, along with a small second shipment, which contained the 3% of parts that were broken. When the automaker called the Japanese supplier to commend them, the supplier asked them if on future orders they still wanted them to manufacture then break and ship 3% of the parts. They were confused because Japanese automakers always insisted on a 0% failure rate for parts.
  8. bruzzes

    bruzzes Truthslayer

    Good post InsAgt!

    I saw the same message.

    One problem I have noticed is how useless the new ISO 2000 Quality standard has become. We have implemented it at my place of business and it is totally worthless.

    It is only a paperchase that can easily be carried out by submitting forms. The actual implementation of the standards to improve quality are still bypassed and ignored. If the forms are correct the auditor is satisfied and moves on. Actual improvement can be manipulated to satisfy the element.

    Companies have learned that it is only the certificate that is necessary to open markets, actual improvement is irrelevent.
    God, I hate working for a place like this.
  9. FrankF

    FrankF #55170-054

    The company that I work for is also ISO 9000 and 9001 certified... doesn't mean crapola. All being certified means is that the company has a quality policy and procedures, and that they follow their policy and procedures (however bad). In my company's case, the procedures are so ambiguous and poorly written that they could be construed to mean anything.
  10. ShinyTop

    ShinyTop I know what is right or wrong!

    Wait until they implement 6 Sigma. Makes ISO2000 seem billiant and successful. 6 Sigma became so prevalent in GE that you could not do a software upgrade without a green belt project. I had to hold an upgrade up 3 weeks once to get it 6 Sigma approved.
  11. bruzzes

    bruzzes Truthslayer

    These last three posts show a certain pattern, does it not?

    These quality programs are just another avenue to obfuscate the real issues; Craftmanship.

    That ethic left us many years ago...
  12. ShinyTop

    ShinyTop I know what is right or wrong!

    The implementation of a new program in GE is done with great fanfare. And the way they they monitor compliance is by choosing a statistic to monitor - in this case the percentage of employees who are green belt qualified. And then all employees are told they had better be qualified if they want to keep their employment. Now you could call this a mandatory qualification. The company even provided the courses to complete the qualification. But here is the rub, you could not take hours off from supporting a customer to take the course. So you had to get your time in and attend the courses and do a project. For the engineers making my branch the most money, i.e., the ones on customer sites, there was no way to qualify. Now as most of you know, a company required course that was only available from the company, had to be done while being paid. You cannot require an employee to come in on their own time for required training. So of course, GE told us we had to be qualified when we were counseled one on one, but there was never anything in writing. GE believed greatly in the corporate policy of GE Integrity, but believe me, GE integrity was only don't get caught violating a law. Integrity did not apply for how you dealt with employees or even customers, only how you dealt with the law.

    Now your Green Belt projects were designed to improve quality for your customer and your company efficiency. And many projects did this. But when you require every salaried employee to become green belt qualified and to accomplish a green belt project to qualify you have many nonsense projects and many projects split up so many can get qualified off one. So due to the emphasis of having employees qualified you lose sight of the emphasis of improving quality.
  13. Coot

    Coot Passed Away January 7, 2010

    I have at work a hard copy of an interview done in 2000 with the President of Toyota by one of the industrial trade rags. According to him, the main reason that the Japanese car industry is profitable and working today and not in the same morass as the Japanese economy is because they were actually able to turn around their internal working paradigm. He actually credits Lee Iacocca and the joint venture plants for the wakeup call. He also predicts another 20 years before the Japanese economy can recover.

    The auto industry in Japan, as well as successful manufacturing concerns in the U.S. rely on employee initiative as well as sound engineering principles and innovation to trim costs and enhance efficiency. This is quite a contrast to the Japanese manufacturing model wherein workers work, innovators innovate, bean counters count...all the way down the line. What is being demanded more and more in the manufacturing sector from professionals is that they be both specialists in a few areas and cross disciplined in many.

    I happen to be an electrical engineer that currently specializes in factory automation. Prior to moving into the industrial arena, I worked in the utility power industry and prior to that in designing television broadcast equipment. My company looked very closely for someone with both specialized skills and a broad background in theoretical engineering, hands on engineering and the ability to quickly adapt. The successful companies that wish to continue to grow are doing exactly the same thing. You innovate what you can in house, and you have a guy driving the boat in his own discipline that knows how to specify new things and get them done so that they work the first time.

    The Japanese auto industry is now working in somewhat the same manner...albeit on a larger scale. Their American automotive counterparts are a bit stodgier and slower to adapt, but they are beginning to innovate and move a bit quicker. I believe they are moving from the 7 year retooling model to successive smaller revamps that tend to improve the existing process while making way for the next process.

    The aforementioned ISO is actually a hindrance if it is followed completely, as change and progress, while provided for, is burdened with a substantial waste of time to get things done, with little or no return on the investment, other than the logo.
  14. Jedi Writer

    Jedi Writer Guest

    No we can't. Not given the societal values and make up of the two countries let alone the business philosphy of each country plus the financial assistance the auto industry gets in Japan. The last point not the factor it was in starting the Japanese automakers' success in this country years ago. Can you spell dumping?
  15. yazdzik

    yazdzik Veteran Member

    Re: Re: The Motor City Mirage

    Dear Friends,

    I know very little about anything, and the two things I know something about, music, my calling, and law, have suffered a decline in craftsmanship since the sixties so severe as to make a stickler for detail such as myself practically unemployable. Musicians play boringly, and I would drop dead of shock were I to read a well-written brief.

    As to cars, like most car nuts, I fancy myself to know a great deal more than I do, simply, because, like avid viewers of court TV who think they could try a case, I have the luxury of designing from my living room things which must neither be built nor make a profit.

    That having been said, I am going to talk about a snow storm, on Christmas, my mustang(contributions to the "Buy Martin an Aston Fund are nonetheless gratefully accepted...) and the way people of at least functional intelligence buy cars and drive them.

    Let us make no mistake, many of us here are not in our twenties. We learnt to drive in rear wheel drive cars, through winters normally more snowy, for whatever reason, than today's, and yet managed to get to work with no four wheel drive, front wheel drive, ALS, ALB etc. Howso? We learnt craftsmanship of driving.

    I looked about me on Christmas, as 4x4 after 4x4 slid, crashed into barriers, all because they were driven at 40mph or so, and the driver failed to remember that the ability to go does not, in fact, contain a correlating ability to stop. Mass remains mass, inertia remains inertia, and the co-efficient of friction is. Is. By marketing all-season tires, for the convenience of idiots, companies kill. Legal? Why not? I, having driven or co-piloted dozens of rallies, turnt homeward, knowing that fools slide in where Hakkinen fears to tread.

    Think about it, how often has it been intimated, note, never expressed, that one of the great advantages of front wheel drive is that, with decent all season tires, one can drive year round without that expense and inconvenience(read: work) of changing tires for the winter? True? Sure, for an inch or two of neat snow in the suburbs. How many of the 4x4 soccer moms change to snow and ice tires in November?

    Flashback to Thursday- day after Christmas- Route 84 W, a few metres west of Milford, Pa -

    I, in my old-fashioned American car, with 75k miles, but really good hydrophilic snows, am driving, as anyone from snow country my age would, behind the salt plow, about fifteen car lengths. Behind me, the driver of a Lexus 4x4, also skilled as he drove at fiteen to twenty lenghts, observed, as well as I with, horror, the soccer mom in the new cherokee, bopping along at forty-ish, catching the upper quadrant of the plow, unseen through the slushy splash. Behind her, an artic driver, at similar speed, but immense mass, unable to stop. His deadline, in spite of speeding in dangerous conditions will never met, not by him, not ever. Her family will never even be able to identify her body.

    I, my normal calm abandoning me, rang 911, and, in spite of training and discipline, literacy and experience, could only mutter, "You would not believe what I just saw." The operator answered,"Yes, I would. Dont stop and put yourself in danger, just keep going and screw the good samaritan bit, we'll be there. Where?" I told him. He hung up.

    It is not that our roads and cars are not safer, but that the carelessness with which Americans approach the act of driving, the craft of driving, is so deeply ingrained that no one takes producing cars for us seriously.

    No one seriously argues that a Camry is a better family car, or better constructed than a Crown Vic, even with the petrol tank problems. However, the publicity, the gadgets, the "feel" of something that is slick and cheap, rather than something which is a useful tool, sells more cars than anything else. Though dumping, at prices well below cost, is ended, the melody of bargain lingers on.

    Money is not the only issue. How many people buying a BMW have ever even been on the autobahn? How many could begin to use that tool anywhere near its design parameters?

    I rejoiced, with a kind of sick schadenfreude at every yuppie stuck in a bimmer with no snow tires. I hoped, of course, that the man with the MD plates, no snows, in an M5 with MD plates, stuck in a petrol station on the Thruway, was not a surgeon. Can you imagine? "Number 15 scalpel." " Sorry, Doc, we didn't bother to put them on the tray. Like your snows."

    Or a lawyer in a Porsche who never bothered to get high speed training..."Ready for trial" "Plaintiff ready." "Sorry, your honour, defence counsel never went to the Monday morning direct examination procedures and practices class. Too early in the morning."

    No, in this case, it is the consumer, who, scorning craftsmanship receives the products suited to his mentality.

    The innovative cars? Corvairs - no thanks, takes skill. RWD? No thanks, have to learn to balance the car. High speed limits to encourage better safety practices? No thanks, elitist - means that an idiot might lose his right to drive with his head internalised intestinally.

    When Japan produces a 300 bhp rwd convertible that can be used, uncomfortably, I admit, for daily transport for a family, including dog and rabbit, for about $25k, Ill bite.

    In the meantime, dumping to sell cheap, then jacking up prices to sell quality is a game that we might all play. But could we have done? When Japan Inc took over the world, they could invest here, but not we there. I say, let us try the reverse for a few years, and see, if they have no barriers and we have the kind they had in the eighties, how many cars we would sell there, and they here. Different story. Playing marbles is easy if I can blow out your pot with a bazooka. Raise our speed limits to 130 mph, demand real driving tests, and stiff penalties for tortfeasant driving, and the market for camries would die slowly, and for Kias, et al, tomorrow.

    If the Japanese had allowed Impalas and Mustangs, and we demanded local content twenty years ago, I am not sure that we would not have developed a 0% failure rate. Again, as Jedi so well says, the culture is different. If we accept failure, then we do. If we want to sell badly enough to those who do not, we clean up our act. If we cannot sell to those whose standards are different because of legal barriers, who knows what we could achieve? Moot.
    As is, no one here knows or cares about quality, rather, what is perceived, through Madison Avenues eyes, as quality. It is amazing that Honda went from being perceived as good because dirt cheap to being good because of high quality. Reality or perception? I remember driving back to back a Peugeot and an Accord. At sixty mph, not much difference, although I hate FWD. At ninety, noticeable. At one-twenty, or at the limit of adhesion? Dead soccer moms. Quality? In a 55mph world of people who do not even want to buy snow tires, it is no trick to make people feel they are getting a bargain and a flawless one.

    I am sorry to say, the consumer reports sickness of never wanting anything more than perfectly functioning mediocrity has made for us thebed in which we must lie with Mr Nader. That a perfectionistic society can make cheap parts for cheap cars the expectation of which is only mediocrity with a zero failure rate and perceived high quality is no art.

    Craftsmanship. Not to be confused with political interventionism, low expectations, drunken UAW workers, or any other issue.

    The day we demand good cars, to be driven with good skills, and are willing to work and pay for both, we shall have the industry that once led the world lead the world again.

    It is a cultural thing. Think about it. Not to carp on Dershowitz, my peeve of the month, but, the unread think of him as a real lawyer, because MacMillan is no longer remembered. Sold well and truly by Rivera, another writer and reporter of stellar abilities? Nader, who cannot even drive a car with decent polar moment of inertia, gets that car removed from the marketplace, then thirty years later runs for president on a campaign for quality of life. Whose and what kind? So, our last president could not even get laid without hitting on a young girl, our current one cannot think and speak at the same time, and his opponents were the aforementioned mediocrity of fear, and another mediocrity of mindlessness, whose platform was so inarticulate that no one knew what he wanted.....even though he invented the internet.....

    Ever wonder why Land Rover and Jag do not send the Range Rover or XKR with real transmissions? I asked an engineer I know at Ford, and he said it was not worth designing a six-speed for the XKR, as most Americans, the US being the major market, would not buy one. What is wrong with our country? When Cadillacs were sold to Italy, the name meant something, even to Alfisti.

    I wonder, if the quality of Japanese cars be really better, or merely advertising better.

    I wonder if anyone can really tell that Madonna is not John Lennon.

    I wonder if anyone can even see the relationship.

    I wonder if the MacDonalds mentality is the future of our culture.

    I wonder then if some Camry driving, MacDogburger eating judge will eventually, while listening to the material asshole, overturn Marbury, saying popularity is everything, and judicial review, like snow tires, learning to steer into a skid, changing the oil, learning geography, and any other skill which requires more sweat than cutting and pasting on a Mac, is just too much work.

  16. bruzzes

    bruzzes Truthslayer

    As always, Martin, your comments stimulate the mind.

    Like I said, Craftmenship. The ability to put a well made and functional product together with well made functional tools and with the finely tuned instruments of our mind and hands.
    Pride in our work is what has slowly declined in the past decade or two or three. It is the individual that must kowtow to the corporate malaise. It is society and pretty toys to play with that entices the slick and pretty.

    The current quality programs are a sham and the individuals who are forced to work with those programs live as big a lie as the products they work with. It is just a job. No more no less. A means to an end and that end to buy more pretty toys. What a classless society we have become.

    That being said,;) This old man who remembers when, must get off his high horse and move away from the rememberances of the past and look forward to what needs to be done here, now and in the future. Awareness is the first step. Pride in your work is the second. I have not quit fighting with the corporate lords, and continue to pursue the mark of quality despite their customer delivery terms and priorities.

    It become stupidity when a delivery time becomes more important than the quality of the part itself. I, sir will continue to fight this battle.
  17. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Well, I have only this to add:

    1995 Honda Civic EX, MSRP around $13,000. 99,000 miles. Normal maintenance followed religiously. Failed component: radiator from rock salt @ 78,000 miles.

    1998 Tahoe Sport, MSRP 27,995. 89,000 miles. Normal maintenance followed religiously. Failed components: Fuel pump @ 44,000 miles. Driveshaft @ 47,000 miles. 4 Wheel Drive Actuator @ about 47,500 miles. Transmission, drivershaft (again!), torque converter @ 75,000 miles. Intake manifold @ 82,000 miles. Windshield wiper motor @ 83,000 miles. U-Joint failure @ 89,000 miles.

    No shit. And I know how to drive; I was brought up with RWD, and have used 4WDs pretty regularly since 1978.

    I know what my next vehicle will likely be. Look for an upcoming post.

  18. Jedi Writer

    Jedi Writer Guest

    Enjoy your Lexus or Volvo.
  19. ShinyTop

    ShinyTop I know what is right or wrong!

    Nah, he will get a Toyota Sequoia. V-8 full sized SUV, UGH, UGH

    <small>how do you make the Toolman's grunting sounds for the web?</small>
  20. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Nah, not a Volvo...if I want something boxy, I want it to be a tank. :)


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