Engineers back in charge at GM


#1

Finally, someone with actual engineering experience instead of bean counters:


#2

This has gone back and forth over the years - and not just at GM.

The real problem is you need to have a balance between the economics and the product. The head guy can’t be one dimensional. Like jesmed, I tend to think that technical guys do a better job, but there are plenty of examples where they didn’t.


#3

I love one of her quotes she told her employees.

“No More Crappy Cars”


#4

@capriracer
I agree. It’s not one way or another. The engineer (s) may not have a handle of customer wants and needs. There is a need for marketing expertise in all businesses. Just going out and making a wonderfully advanced technological marvel that fills no ones needs, does no one any good. Engineers can be wasteful too. In the ideal world, the release of a product to the public should be a democratic decision between all factions of the industry.


#5

It’s easier for an engineer executive to listen to marketing than for a marketer to grasp the technicalities of a good car. Honda seems to have a good balance with lots of good engineers and savvy marketers.

The worst is a styling artist becoming the CEO. You get impractical cars that are unreliable and loose money. In the 50s and 60s GM was run by stylists and accountants. The trunk lid of the 1959 to mid sixties 2 door hardtops was larger than the roof panel!!! Their large market share allowed them to foist these cars on the public.


#6

It reads like she’s got the stuff to do the job. We’ll see.

As regards the '50s and 60s, GM along with Ford and Chrysler made the best cars in the world for the working class. Even in the luxury class, with the Caddy, Lincoln, and (to a lesser extent) the New Yorker, the “big three” made some of the best in the world. It may be that all that wild styling was responsible for GM’s large market share. IMHO it’s past due time for the engineers and stylists to take over once again.


#7
IMHO it's past due time for the engineers and stylists to take over once again. -

I can’t agree more. I’m a huge fan of GM vehicles of the 60’s. Still love their style/performance and price. It was the best years for GM IMHO. Now maybe there was a little bit of the Big-Three being forced to switch engineering priorities to meeting Cafe’ numbers Pollution concerns and Safety concerns. But I really believe that was minor. They let too many things slip for too long. Bean counters had way too much control.

As an engineering manager I know we need the bean counters. They should have input into engineering direction, but they should not lead engineering. I’ve seen way too many situations where someone non-technical making technical decisions that is either not even feasible or the cost is really prohibitive. And these same people don’t take technical criticism well. They think because they are in charge of engineering they know engineering. They ignore input from the engineers. I’ve left companies when faced with that situation. In every situation I’ve been in like that…each and every one FAILED.


#8

@mountainbike Cars of the sixties and seventies may have better than other cars from overseas but they were by no means reliable and long lived without many parts and component replacements. Compared to what they could have been, bodies were rust prone, accessories relatively short lived and so on. The engines were basically good if well looked after.

My 1965 Dodge Dart was maintained by the book, lasted 13 years and was disposed of full of rust with 154,000 miles on the clock. By that mileage, springs, shocks, ball joints, alternator, battery, ignition switch, gas tank, speedometer cable, winshield washers, water pump, exhaust sytem, U joints, starter, one head gasket, turn signal switch, engine oil leaks, idler arm, and many little things had to repaired or replaced.

And this was the best of the compacts. True that a person running a large car back and forth from L.A. to Las Vegas could accumulate 400,000 miles or so, but that is a unique situation. The equivalent of that is an 1980s Toyota Celica which did that and is still running around our town with nearly 2 million miles on the clock.

We all fondly rember cars we liked and grew up with, regardless of how good in absolute terms they were.


#9

All good points Doc, but it’s unrealistic to gage reliability and longevity of cars from the '50s and '60s against cars of today. The '70s were, IMHO, not a proud era in the automotive world. That era was replete with Vegas, Pintos, and countless other examples of shortcut engineering. Lots of junk was produced in that era. The '80s were a lost era. That was an era IMHO of deception and fraud; trying to sell Cheap chevys as luxury Caddys with a few badges and a touch of poor quality leather trim.


#10

Not everyone thinks Barra is a good choice:
http://www.autoextremist.com/


#11

Ouch! Double ouch!!
I’m not sure whether this is insight or ax grinding. But it IS an interesting read.


#12

Well, clearly he’s a fan of Mark Reuss, and upset that his guy didn’t get picked. Is he right? Time will tell.


#13

I agree with Doc. Cars got more reliable and safer, which often go hand in hand, not just because the engineers were given more of a say, but the Govt. got more involved in car safety, efficiency and indirectly, longevity. There was little recourse but to ask engineers for more help. Bean counters probably coundn’t understand the mandates.
Old sixtys cars barely reached 60k without lots and lots of headaches. Cars with that reliability would be called Yugos today.


#14

“But then who are we kidding here? Dan Akerson never had the right thing for the company in mind when he was handed General Motors on a silver platter. Let’s be clear, this is the guy who openly loathed the automobile industry and everyone in it. He hates cars and he hated the people who called themselves “car guys” or “car girls””.

It seems to me that the woman appointed to run GM is a “car person”. I really don’t put much stock in the article against this new appointee and Dan Akerson.

I agree with others that a balance is needed between engineering and marketing savvy. I think about how Lee Iacocca turned Chrysler around. He was a “car guy” but he also had marketing sense.
When I think about the two extremes, Roger Smith, a bean counter, was not a great leader of GM. On the other hand, P.T. Keller was a very fine engineer, but the Chrysler styling under his leadership left a lot to be desired. I never did care for the “lift and clunk” semi-automatic transmission that was developed and marketed under Keller’s leadership. Chrysler products were “engineers’ cars” back in the early 1950s, but Chrysler products slipped in sales.


#15

@dagosa The real push was from Japanese car manufacturers, used to Continous Improvement (kaisan) who started to show up the poor quality of US cars. Other imports, with the exception of VW, never competed seriously. The combination of performance guarantees on emissions and gas mileage and Japanese competition, forced the increase in reliability and durability.

In 1981 one of my colleagues at work, who owned a Ford Country Squire wagon, asked my opinion of a Honda Accord. I was somewhat hesitant, since this man was a rough driver. I said OK if he maintained it scrupulously and checked all fluids regularly. He talked to me later after having moved to another office and said he had reach 70,000 miles with only replacing the battery. After that I had real faith in Japanese cars.

To guarantee emission systems for 50,000 miles, a lot had to be improved. GM beefed up the exhaust system up to the end of the catalytic converter, the rest of the system was the same crappy old stuff. At least Chrysler inproved the whole exhaust system.

True, GM was always focused on dollars and saving a few bucks at the expense of safety and durability was OK. It got you promoted.

Ed Cole was a real engineer, but he was kept on a very short leash. The Corvair was his baby, but he had to make a lot of compromises. After leaving GM he headed up Checker Cabs with big plans to make this the best cab ever. Unfortuantely he died in a plane crash and nerver saw his dream fullfilled.

It will be a long time before I will look at another US car.


#16
I think about how Lee Iacocca turned Chrysler around. He was a "car guy" but he also had marketing sense.

Iacocca was a GENIUS. When he was in charge of Chryco they were extremely inventive and made some of the best looking and most innovative vehicles at the time. Unfortunately they had some quality problems.


#17

@Doc
I remember the early Japanese cars. They were certainly nothing to write home about. It’s been obvious that the Japanese had an advantage in building cars with their industrial mindset. But the American auto improved in quality too, directly attributed to mandates. Polution mandates made yearly muffler changes a thing of the past. Taking lead out if gasoline practically eliminated tune ups. Mandating that safety systems and polution control devices go for 60 to 90 k miles had a ripple effect on all the systems in a car as nearly everything in a car is related to pollution and safety. The Japanese, notably Honda and Toyota always managed to stay a step ahead. But they all improved because of mandates. Otherwise, Toyotas would only last 90k miles while Chrysler’s would be good for 70k…instead of literally twice to three times that amount comparable today. Using stainless steel and other long lasting components does that. Likewise, consumer advocacy groups were highly influential. Class action suits on safety, indirectly increase reliability, for all cars.


#18

The irony is that quality control guru Deming was an American who was ignored by Detroit. Only the Japanese paid any attention to his work and incorporated his methods. That’s what turned Japanese car quality around, and it took Detroit a decade to wake up and notice their lunch was being eaten…based on work by an American.


#19

I read an article about GM and Ford stylist Larry Shinoda. He had a hand in the C2 Corvette, largely styled the C3 Mako Shark Corvette, and also designed the Boss 302. That article said that Larry tried his best to convince Detroit executives that the Japanese invasion was coming, and if they didn’t do something about it, they’d soon be getting their you-know-whats handed to them. He was rebuffed, and after Bunkie Knudsen was fired from Ford, he left as well to open his own automotive design studio.

He tried.


#20

No matter who is selected, someone will write an article like the one above. Having spent some time in the telecom industry, I am suspicious of Ackerson though, met a lot of people like the description of him in that industry, but I also met some really good people too.

Don’t forget, her father was a rank and file worker so she has good roots.