Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

The Big 3

There was a News story yesterday on CNN about the Big-3 bailout. One of the people they interviewed was this line worker who’s been with GM for 30 years. He was talking about how quality has improved drastically in GM in the past 5 years.

One statement that caught my attention was…“If a car was missing a screw or bolt or didn’t pass inspection…we’d still ship it because we didn’t want to miss a sale. Now we make sure ALL vehicles pass inspection before we ship.”

And you wonder WHY GM has had QUALITY problems in the past years. You also have to ask…Is this just a short term solution? Will they go back to their sloppy manufacturing if things turn around? Are they only NOW deciding to pay attention to quality since they are desperate to survive? Or have they finally seen the light and will actually start building quality cars again? I hope the latter.

Um, they have been paying attention to quality for quite a long time. It’s not like one day last week someone sent out a memo saying “Okay, guys, seriously, time to put in all of the bolts.”

A major quality restructuring program has been underway at each of the big 3 for the last few years because they have realized that to truly compete with Honda and Toyota, they have to step it up.

Quality has been improving steadily for a long time because of this, not because they suddenly want to prove that they are worthy of government money.

Um, they have been paying attention to quality for quite a long time

From past experience and from relatives cars I’ve worked on…I have to totally disagree with you.

Maybe this guy used to work for Nissan when they were failing to tighten mainshaft nuts properly on their 5-speed manual transmissions, which in turn caused the transmission to lock between gears, which in turn caused the vehicle owner to have to call the tow truck, which in turn turned out to be a money maker for me since warranty did not pay for it and I did enough of them that I got pretty proficient at it.

GM is so large they make some high quality vehicles, some average and other duds.

Maybe my parents hit the good ones with regards to GM. A 88 3/4 ton 4wd Suburban(used to tow horses) lasted my mum 220k miles/12 years without any serious problems. She sold to a funeral parlor and it hauls coffins to this day. She had one breakdown and a knowledgable mechanic whacked her starter with a wrench and told her not turn it off till she made it home or garage. Otherwise very little problems.

My dad had a 87 Buick Century 4cylinder(company car) that went trouble free over 6 years/190k miles until he neglected to change oil for 15k miles and toasted engine. The company replaced the engine for under $1000 out of a wreck and it motored on for at least another 5 years at the company.

Kinda doubtfull the guy worked for Nissan previously. Couldn’t have worked at GM for 30 years since Nissan hasn’t had a manufacturing presence in this country that long.

I believe there is a general concensus, reinforced by JD Power and Consumer Reports, that Detroit 3 quality has gone up; Chrysler’s the least, and Ford’s the most.

Since quality and durability are moving targets, these efforts will never let up. Hyundai and Kia probably have improved quality faster than anyone, although they have some way to go to catch up to Toyota and Honda. Even Mercedes is now showing some improvement from there much worse than average reputation.

In the past, buyers felt that if the car lasted 100,000 mile without major problems they were satified they had a good car. Now the expectations are for at least 200,000 miles.

My 1965 Dodge Dart with all the bells and whistles was a mediocre car by today’s standards, but I had great fun with it although it had more than twice as many trips to repair shops per 100,000 miles than our Nissan Sentra, and it bit the dust at 154,000 miles due to rust-out.

Maybe my parents hit the good ones with regards to GM. A 88 3/4 ton 4wd Suburban(used to tow horses) lasted my mum 220k miles/12 years without any serious problems

Last GM I owned was fine for the first 90k miles…Then it started to cost more to maintain it.

Are You Kidding? This Stuff Goes On In Almost All Businesses.

Give somebody a little grief at a restaurant or pizza joint when placing a take-out order. Talk about production quality issues. Guess what someone will do to your pizza? Some people might write and tell you.

By the way, you mean you think that the Japanese car assembly plants in the U.S. are somehow exempt from these practices? Guess again. Each plant has Americans with various attitudes.

I think the poor economy and its consequences will tighten everything up for the better.

P.S. FYI, I make it a habit never to get my news from CNN (or ABC, NBC, CBS). They could have influenced the story a bit, in my opinion. Could this be one more example?

The guys still employed…We’re not talking about a disgruntled employee here.

By the way, you mean you think that the Japanese car assembly plants in the U.S. are somehow exempt from these practices?

What does being American or NOT have to do with it?? It also has NOTHING to do with the guy working on the assembly line…It’s all MANAGEMENT making stupid decisions.

This isn’t the ONLY story I’ve ever heard of…Especially since I have 3 nephews…2 uncles that still work on the assembly line at various GM and Chryco plants…not to mention a Brother-in-law who’s a retired Chryco plant manager.

I Either Never Got One Of These Big 3 Cars With Missing Screws Or They’re Overly Tough.

I have no complaints about the quality of the many GM and Chrysler cars my family has owned over the past several decades. They must be built so well that fasteners can be left off and one is still left with a superior product. How else can it be explained?

Um, is this a repair and maintenance question?

The way it was explained to me is that they would design the car with more bolts than necessary so that if one was missing, it would not fall apart.

The example that was used to illustrate this principle to me was truck beds. The bolts used to attach the bed to the frame could hold even if one or two were missing.

Does that make them superior? Not in my opinion. A superior manufacturer would design a margin of error AND make sure all the bolts were in place.

The riceburner companies have been focusing on quality for the last 40 years…or more. Since Deming, post-WWII.

And not by inspecting it in. Building it in requires focusing intently on the processes (Statistical Process Control and Lean Manufacturing being major tools), the design (Design For Manufacture is a biggie) and the parts that go into the vehicle (Supplier Quality programs are a key here).

There’s an old story about how one American electronics manufacturer trying to implement SPC mandated of their “chip” supplier that their requirement for acceptance of the parts was “10 ppm defective”. They received the shipment from their Japanese suppier with 10 parts seperately packaged in the top of the box with a note attached that said “while we don’t understand why you require this, we’ve taken the trouble to produce some defective parts for you and have packaged them seperately for your convenience”.

The Japanese were running their production facility around focus on process variation requirements (called upper and lower control limits) that were well within the part tolerances, correcting their processes as the distribution curve drifted or became other than a normal distribution, well before any defective parts were produced.

Quality cannot be inspected in. It needs to be designed and manufactured in. The comment from the line worker was “telling”.

Having said that, yes the “big three” have made progress. But the competition they’re trying to catch has continued to improve. It truely is a sliding scale. Besides, the “big three” suffers from having made serious strategic errors, among them having put themselves in the control of accountants rather than “car guys”.

Why Have I Never Discovered That Any Parts Or Fasteners Were Missing On My Cars, Ever, Even From The 70s? (I Do My Own Maintenance / Repairs.)
This must be pretty rare stuff we’re whining about, here.

Good post; in any Toyota plant, any worker can pull a cord to stop the line, if for some reason he falls behind putting in those screws. That’s part of the Quality Assurance process. The last Chryler product I bought new and had a “Factory Preservice” since the dealer was too far away, had the following defects:

  1. A quantity of screws left under the carpet.
  2. Carper in front so poorly fitted, it popped out of the trim molding.
  3. Front wheels so badly out of alignment it prematurely wore out the front tires
  4. Dash lights not working
  5. Shift leaver console light not working
  6. Interior was baby blue instead of Black! Outside colour was green as ordered.
  7. Seat belts did not retract
  8. Trunk mat did not fit properly
  9. Headlights poorly aimed
  10. Tire pressure incorrect
  11. Windshield washer not working

The local dealer had fun correcting all these errors, including a complete color change (to white) to match th powder blue interior. The dealer told me that on average, 10-13 defects had to be corrected by the dealers. However, I PAID Chryler’s plant to have all this done; I believe they just put some gas in the tank!

By contrast, the Toyota I bought last year was totally perfect as delivered by the dealer; washed, tank full of gas, and a full demo by the salesman what all the knobs were for.

Do I Detect A Bias, Here?

I worked for both Mazda and Volkswagen for many years. Although I have no example quite this dramatic (What one would expect with a very rare no dealer prep example) I have many Mazda and Volkswagen horror stories. I won’t bore everyone with them. This kind of sensationalism is silly. I have owned and operated Volkswagens, Mazdas, Isuzus, Dodges, Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and Honda motorcycles.

This stuff gets to be like the old playground taunts, “My Dad can beat up your Dad!” “Oh, Yah!” “Wanna Bet?” “Yah!”

Ouch! Good post. Excellent illustration of why the various manufacturers are where they are on the pie chart of market shares.

The Dealers I have worked for are GM(primairly Chevrolet,but Cadillac and GMC) BMW,Honda,Kia,we as Techs always felt we were doing “quality control” when we did our PDI’s(pre-deliver inspections) I honestly can’t say I felt better about one car over another.I have replace eary Oddyessy(Honda)transmissions and had the factory replacements fail on test drives.So much for Honda.

GM gave us good training,always there for Tech support,sure the flat rate was bad but thats a whole different thread.I missed the emission nightmare years,I was with VW Indy’s then,and we had many problems with them,what I am trying to say is I didn’t feel I was working with a shoddy product in all my years with GM,probably the worst thing I can relate,rather than missing fasteners was the AC Delco batterys that leaked from the postive terminals and did so much damage,some GM did not pick-up and they produced these leaking batterys for over 5 years.There were other issues but this is the one that comes most to mind.If a car came in for,lets say a rattle issue and upon inspection you see the leaking battery it was very hard to get the Manager to add it to the R.O. as a warranty issue,no upsale with warranty.

I agree with the others who stated that “Detroit” has made enormous strides in assembly quality over the past 5 years or so. As just one illustration of this, Consumer Reports used to list the “sample defects” that they found in the cars that they tested, and the list for the American makes used to make for very interesting (and sometimes, scary) reading.

There were some occasional notes of sample defects in the Japanese cars that they tested, but these comments were few and far between. Several years ago, CR stopped listing sample defects in their test cars, and they commented that this sort of situation had become so rare in all makes of cars that the very minor things that were now occasionally found were not worth commenting on.

That being said, I am reminded of what I observed–back in the '70s–when I toured the GM assembly plant in Linden, NJ on a couple of occasions. At the very end of the assembly line, the…ahem…“quality control” guys would adjust ill-fitting hoods and trunk lids by slamming the mis-aligned part on a hammer handle several times until the “low side” had been bent sufficiently to match the “high side”–more or less.

That open display of ham-handed “quality control” did a lot to mold my image of GM in those days. Despite that sorry display, I did wind up buying a Chevy Citation in 1981–and lived to regret that decision. I replaced the Citation with a Taurus, and found the Taurus to be a totally superior vehicle in every way. (Incidentally, I could not trade the Citation in, as NO car dealer would agree to take it in trade)

Today, I would not hestitate to buy an “American” car, but I would likely limit myself to something made by Ford.