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Automotive Share Shift Assessment

Posted October 03, 2006 5:00 PM by MillMatt

What is really happening in the automotive market? Are passenger vehicles from Ford or GM really different (i.e. in terms of performance, quality, functionality) from Honda and Toyota? From Mazda, Isuzu, Subaru? From Hyundai, Kia, Daewoo? (Yes, for now let's focus on these companies and leave DaimlerChrysler and European suppliers for another discussion.

I have owned three GM vehicles, two Fords and a pre-Daimler minivan from Chrysler. All lasted upwards of ten years, 100K miles-plus and performed acceptably; not perfectly but acceptably. I have also owned five Hondas and a Lexus that have performed similarly (except for a V6 Honda with an under-sized transmission that I will discount as my poor choice).

The Hondas did provide better fuel economy, acceleration and handling. The Ford SUV and Chrysler minivan offered more room, better functionality and a quieter ride. The Lexus had exceptional fit/finish and appointments. With this information, however, it is difficult for me to judge one product superior to another. But, I certainly hear the comments of others whose opinions I respect. And, it is clear that Ford and GM have suffered market share loss and significant financial woes.

Are their problems truly performance and quality related? Is there a quantitative basis by which the market has judged the various products that has lead to this share shift? Or is the share shift based upon poor functionality? Un-met expectations? Advertising? Hearsay? Herd mentality? Subjective product styling choices? Personal Image statements?

What is really going on here? Can anybody give an objective assessment, data (!) that avoids anecdotes, opinion, ego and emotion? Thanks.

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#1

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/05/2006 12:13 AM

Most North Americans are status and fashion conscious with their cars, expecially in business. Theu most change cars in 3 years for this reason alone. A person or business that uses an older car is seen as inferior. In addtion, as cars age, repairs increase and reliability decreases.

I can see that you are now well over 100 driving years old.

In foreign lands wages are lower. That means workers can spend a lot more time doing a job properly. Most of the defects on US cars are bad fits and adjustments done badly. That means the engine as well, so it wears out faster .

The USA had car makers that had a local monopoly. long distance freight of cars was so costly that onle a few expensive cars were sold in the USA. There were also tariff barriers.

This changed. New fast car ships could load and unload a lot of cars quickly = lower freight. Tariffs were also lowered. The USA also made large cars and the gas/oil shocks every few years were ignored by the USA makers. In Japan and Europe they tax gas veru hiughly, twice as high as the USA = very high price for gas in Japan and Europe = great pressure for smaller efficnent cars.

These small efficient care started the import rush and they just expaned into our market.

The autoworkers union was stupid and preferred to lose jobs instead of lowering wages and benefits. Over the next 10 years the US car makers will be ruined by the union. They will close most of their places doen

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#5
In reply to #1

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/09/2006 9:06 AM

In reply to Aurizon:

Most North Americans are status and fashion conscious with their cars, expecially in business. Theu most change cars in 3 years for this reason alone. A person or business that uses an older car is seen as inferior. In addtion, as cars age, repairs increase and reliability decreases. Are you suggesting that Ford and GM cars are designed with the expectation of a shorter lifetime because the North American market is not interested in cars for more than three years? And, if the market does not value longer car life, could it be said that Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Subaru, etc. are over-designing their cars?

I can see that you are now well over 100 driving years old. Well, no, but I am half way there, married and with adult children so you have to factor that into your calculation that includes all the cars I own. Also, I average 25,000 miles per year and, when I used to travel for business frequently, I rented many different kinds of cars, too.

In foreign lands wages are lower. That means workers can spend a lot more time doing a job properly. Most of the defects on US cars are bad fits and adjustments done badly. That means the engine as well, so it wears out faster . So, are you suggesting that because of higher labor costs, US based manufacturers have to run their assembly lines at a faster rate; and, in so doing, more defects are allowed which also has a negative effect on quality and longer term performance? Conversely, do Toyota and Honda pay their North American workers lower wages, run their plants at slower speeds and, therefore, have higher product quality? And, what about Ford/GM plants outside of North America. Are they over-paying their employees there? If you can quantify this subject, I would be very interested to learn more. And, if there are engineers in the automotive industry who would like to challenge these notions, I would be interested in your comments. Personally, I find it hard to believe that an engineer at Ford or GM would make such a decision to run an assembly line at a rate that would adversely impact product quality.

The USA had car makers that had a local monopoly. long distance freight of cars was so costly that onle a few expensive cars were sold in the USA. There were also tariff barriers. This changed. New fast car ships could load and unload a lot of cars quickly = lower freight. Tariffs were also lowered. If shipping costs are so low, then why would Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other build assembly facilities in North America?

The USA also made large cars and the gas/oil shocks every few years were ignored by the USA makers. In Japan and Europe they tax gas veru hiughly, twice as high as the USA = very high price for gas in Japan and Europe = great pressure for smaller efficnent cars. Your comment here is often repeated and has been for over 25 years. Is there a good reason that the gas/oil shocks were ignored other than the fact that taxes are higher in Europe and Japan? I believe there are other reasons that have to do with relevant marketing principles, competitive dynamics and shareholder interests but I cannot quantify my opinion and hope that someone else might be able to provide that insight. Again, as I stated above, I would like for engineers who have devoted their time and talent to the automotive industry to provide their thoughts. I cannot believe that the talented engineers at GM and Ford (as at any other automotive manufacturer) would simply overlook technologies and resources so profitably employed by their competitors.

These small efficient care started the import rush and they just expaned into our market.

The autoworkers union was stupid and preferred to lose jobs instead of lowering wages and benefits. Over the next 10 years the US car makers will be ruined by the union. They will close most of their places doen Your comment here is also often heard but senior Union managers are usually as educated (engineering, law, business), experienced and savvy as their counterparts in industry. As I understand matters, Union managers are trying to maximize value (possibly measured as total wages and benefits, employment numbers and more) for their members which is not inconsistent with industry manager's goal of maximizing the value of their enterprise for shareholders. The two are not mutually exclusive and have more that unites the unions with management than divides them. So, while it may be that union managers and members have made some mistakes in their negotiations or could find a better way to ehance value, I think statements such that the unions will ruin an industry are wrong and damaging in their own way.

Aurizon, I very much appreciate your comments and do hope that you and other engineers (whose careers are being challenged by these business changes) will continue this discussion.

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#8
In reply to #5

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/09/2006 10:53 AM

. Are you suggesting that Ford and GM cars are designed with the expectation of a shorter lifetime because the North American market is not interested in cars for more than three years? And, if the market does not value longer car life, could it be said that Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Subaru, etc. are over-designing their cars?

Yes. The car makers discovered this many years ago as they reached saturation and they felt a need to sell more cars than the normal long lifetime. They initiated a strategy to make the older cars unattractive by new designs features. There is also the suspicion that they implemented end of life features in their designs so that as time went by so many of these failures would make people toss the cars out. It worked.

So, are you suggesting that because of higher labor costs, US based manufacturers have to run their assembly lines at a faster rate; and, in so doing, more defects are allowed which also has a negative effect on quality and longer term performance? Conversely, do Toyota and Honda pay their North American workers lower wages, run their plants at slower speeds and, therefore, have higher product quality? And, what about Ford/GM plants outside of North America. Are they over-paying their employees there? If you can quantify this subject, I would be very interested to learn more. And, if there are engineers in the automotive industry who would like to challenge these notions, I would be interested in your comments. Personally, I find it hard to believe that an engineer at Ford or GM would make such a decision to run an assembly line at a rate that would adversely impact product quality.

Yes, indeed. The time spent on each task is a component in cost of the job. Less time for each job = less cost. Also less time to get it right.

Have you never heard of line speedups? Parts are routinely designed to be as cheap as possible, and the line time to do each task is constatnly being shortened as much as they can. There is a tradeoff, as cars go out the door with many adjustment defects that the dealer has to repair(dealer prep this is called). Foreign makers had newer factories and better flow of parts and men and fewer work rules.

. If shipping costs are so low, then why would Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other build assembly facilities in North America?

You get a complex tradeoff between freight and import duty. If freight is $1500 and duty on a $20,000 car is 6% = $1200, you save $2700 by making it inside the USA. It used to be the old way freight was $3-4000 and that killed off cheap cars from Asia. Then fast dedicated car transports cut that down and imports started to hit. So US makers dropped prices and the offshore people built here

. Your comment here is often repeated and has been for over 25 years. Is there a good reason that the gas/oil shocks were ignored other than the fact that taxes are higher in Europe and Japan? I believe there are other reasons that have to do with relevant marketing principles, competitive dynamics and shareholder interests but I cannot quantify my opinion and hope that someone else might be able to provide that insight. Again, as I stated above, I would like for engineers who have devoted their time and talent to the automotive industry to provide their thoughts. I cannot believe that the talented engineers at GM and Ford (as at any other automotive manufacturer) would simply overlook technologies and resources so profitably employed by their competitors.

Roads and city spaces smaller in Europe as well as very high gas taxes. $5-6/gallon was common. These drove smaller cars. Europeans also wanted cars that lasted longer and so bought more mercedes etc.

Your comment here is also often heard but senior Union managers are usually as educated (engineering, law, business), experienced and savvy as their counterparts in industry. As I understand matters, Union managers are trying to maximize value (possibly measured as total wages and benefits, employment numbers and more) for their members which is not inconsistent with industry manager's goal of maximizing the value of their enterprise for shareholders. The two are not mutually exclusive and have more that unites the unions with management than divides them. So, while it may be that union managers and members have made some mistakes in their negotiations or could find a better way to ehance value, I think statements such that the unions will ruin an industry are wrong and damaging in their own way.

That is not true at all. Most unions are run by people up from the ranks. They may hire expertise in the areas you mention, but they rarely have those talents inherently as they worked their way up the line.

The two are indeed mutually exclusive. There is $1 of profit and they both want it. One for their members and one for their shareholders.

Yes, unions ruin industries and businesses. Look at the ruins of the steel industry and the auto industry and ther North east USA in general

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#12
In reply to #8

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/11/2006 10:17 AM

Yes. The car makers discovered this many years ago as they reached saturation and they felt a need to sell more cars than the normal long lifetime. They initiated a strategy to make the older cars unattractive by new designs features. There is also the suspicion that they implemented end of life features in their designs so that as time went by so many of these failures would make people toss the cars out. It worked.

I certainly would hope that other engineers with experience in the automotive market would refute your point. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would knowingly design pre-mature "end of life features" into a product where performance failure has the possibility of causing great harm.

As for adding new design features, I think your perspective is pessimistic. If Dell and HP took that approach in personal computers, their competitors would jump at the opportunity OR we would all be screaming for better performance, lower cost that we have come to expect. I very much appreciate the constant stream of innovation added to new cars and all products that I use. And, you have struck a chord that will be the thesis of my next blog entry. (stay tuned!)

Yes, indeed. The time spent on each task is a component in cost of the job. Less time for each job = less cost. Also less time to get it right.

Have you never heard of line speedups? Parts are routinely designed to be as cheap as possible, and the line time to do each task is constatnly being shortened as much as they can. There is a tradeoff, as cars go out the door with many adjustment defects that the dealer has to repair(dealer prep this is called). Foreign makers had newer factories and better flow of parts and men and fewer work rules.

Again, I sure hope that other engineers in the automotive industry would challenge these kind of statements! I have no reason to doubt that Ford and GM run their production operations as fast as prudently possible. But, if their idea of prudent leads to excessive costs to the dealers, I would like to believe there is a feedback mechanism (formal or informal) that helps get things adjusted properly.

You get a complex tradeoff between freight and import duty. If freight is $1500 and duty on a $20,000 car is 6% = $1200, you save $2700 by making it inside the USA. It used to be the old way freight was $3-4000 and that killed off cheap cars from Asia. Then fast dedicated car transports cut that down and imports started to hit. So US makers dropped prices and the offshore people built here

Roads and city spaces smaller in Europe as well as very high gas taxes. $5-6/gallon was common. These drove smaller cars. Europeans also wanted cars that lasted longer and so bought more mercedes etc.

You are touching on some economic drivers in the decision making process that I hope can be developed more fully. I appreciate the point you are trying to make here but would like to see the studies that, presumably, have been done of consumer impact (in Europe, In North America, elswhere) on automotive design for longevity, performance, etc.

That is not true at all. Most unions are run by people up from the ranks. They may hire expertise in the areas you mention, but they rarely have those talents inherently as they worked their way up the line.

The two are indeed mutually exclusive. There is $1 of profit and they both want it. One for their members and one for their shareholders.

Yes, unions ruin industries and businesses. Look at the ruins of the steel industry and the auto industry and ther North east USA in general

Provocative statements. Competition has its central value in all propositions. Your comment, however, suggests a polarization that is unhealthy. Business, as with all facets of life, is not a zero-sum game where there is only one winner; call me idealistic, but all endeavors are much more fruitful, enjoyable and rewarding when treated as value propositions.

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#2

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/05/2006 6:39 AM

I don't think the effect of the media can be overlooked either. I'm not sure of the reasoning but by definition it seems to main stream media and autojournalists a like that foreign is better and domestic is not as good. This is the first rule before even testing or driving the cars. All makes let a few "lemons" out the factory doors it just seems like Ford and GM lemons get a lot more press then other lemons.

It would be difficult to blame quality on workers alone as now many "foreign" cars are built (or assembled) in the US and some supposedly "domestic" cars are not built in the US. It seems that Detroit did its reputation serious harm from the 60's through the early 80's and nobody wants to let them forget regardless of how good their cars are now.

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#6
In reply to #2

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/09/2006 9:11 AM

Thank you for your thoughts, Shawn, it is exactly the point you raise that I question. Is journalistic hyperbole one of the factors that is harming the automotive marketplace? I do not know the answer to that question but my own experience suggests that there is not this great disparity in quality and performance as I a.) read about in the newspaper and trade journals, or b.) hear in discussion with my family, friends and colleagues.

Were I an engineer at Ford or General Motors, I would want to give voice to this matter. And, I hope they will.

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#3

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/05/2006 9:50 AM

Consumer Reports has kept detailed records on frequency of repair data for many years. Honda and Toyota have consistently been near the top (even better than Mercedes). Although both Ford and GM have occasionally built reliable vehicles, neither has a consistent reputation for doing so. These are hard facts, not opinion. This erodes brand viability.

You mention that your Hondas provided better fuel economy, acceleration, and handling. Test data from automotive magazines supports that contention. In addition, perceptive drivers (and the automotive magazines, which are generally written by perceptive drivers) also appreciate the "feel" of a Honda, and to a lesser extent the "feel" of a Toyota. Steering, in the American cars, is often described as "dead on center" or "uncommunicative" or "sloppy". These words are almost never associated with Honda, and rarely with Toyota. So Honda and Toyota have consistently provided cars that are more pleasant to drive. This enhances brand viability.

I think that you would find, as Consumer Reports and the enthusiast magazines have, that a Honda minivan is better is every respect (more room, better functionality, and quieter ride) that the Ford or GM equivalent. (You mention a Chrysler minivan too -- but I thought we weren't going to talk about them. ) The Chrysler minivans are better than the Ford and GM products, but even they don't match the Honda. (Uncharacteristically, Honda has had reliability problems with their minivan.) So, again, apples for apples, Honda better delivers what consumers want. On the other hand, when I bought my $16,000 Plymouth minivan, Honda's least expensive offering was $25,000. For the difference in price, I decided I could live with shortcomings of the Plymouth. So while the US companies can sometimes produce a more affordable vehicle, generally the vehicle is second rate, justifying the cost difference. This erodes brand viability.

Further, although all manufactures have produced lemons, GM and Ford have a corner on the market for producing lemons that have killed and injured people in large numbers: Corvairs that crash, Pintos that burst into flames, Blazers that do the same, Ford Explorers that roll over, etc. The cover-ups and corporate skapegoating surrounding these disasters has blemished the reputations of these companies irreparably. Honda and Toyota have not embarrassed themselves in this way. More brand erosion by Ford and GM.

The US adapted very, very slowly to building smaller fuel-efficient cars that were fun to drive. In the 60's, the 70's, and 80's the efforts of the US manufacturers to come up with anything that could compete in handling, performance, and fuel efficiency with the European cars were laughable. Although Ford and GM now make a few appealing smaller cars, they don't have brands that are strongly associated with appealing small cars. The two best selling vehicles in the US are the Ford F150 and the Chevy Silverado: both old tech, gas guzzling trucks. As long as buyers think little about energy cost, energy independence, and global warming, then the lumbering vehicles that Ford and GM can sell profitably will do well in the marketplace. But if consumers become more enlightened, as has apparently happened recently, then Ford and GM will be in trouble.

Barely adequate reliability, mediocre to poor handling, poor fuel efficiency, awful safety record, corporate irresponsibility: these are things that people will overlook when the selling is easy; but when times are a little tougher they are things that separate winners from losers.

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#7
In reply to #3

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/09/2006 10:06 AM

In reply to Blink:

Consumer Reports has kept detailed records on frequency of repair data for many years. Honda and Toyota have consistently been near the top (even better than Mercedes). Although both Ford and GM have occasionally built reliable vehicles, neither has a consistent reputation for doing so. These are hard facts, not opinion. This erodes brand viability. I do appreciate that Consumer Reports has compiled repair data for many years and done an admirable job of providing that information in a format that can be understand by nearly all. The engineers, writers and others at Consumer Reports are to be commended for their ongoing efforts! That said, are the data truly 'detailed' and statistically valid? If not, then I submit that the reports are not necessarily 'hard facts'. Opinion certainly has its place in popular discussion but enthusiasm and criticism, alike, often have to be tempered.

You mention that your Hondas provided better fuel economy, acceleration, and handling. Test data from automotive magazines supports that contention. In addition, perceptive drivers (and the automotive magazines, which are generally written by perceptive drivers) also appreciate the "feel" of a Honda, and to a lesser extent the "feel" of a Toyota. Steering, in the American cars, is often described as "dead on center" or "uncommunicative" or "sloppy". These words are almost never associated with Honda, and rarely with Toyota. So Honda and Toyota have consistently provided cars that are more pleasant to drive. This enhances brand viability. I agree with your points!

I think that you would find, as Consumer Reports and the enthusiast magazines have, that a Honda minivan is better is every respect (more room, better functionality, and quieter ride) that the Ford or GM equivalent. I cannot comment on this point with regard to Ford/GM but do hope that others will.(You mention a Chrysler minivan too -- but I thought we weren't going to talk about them. ) Well, I did try to choose my words carefully and glad you caught the apparent inconsistency. When I bought the Chrysler minivan in 1995, the company was a publicly-owned company with headquarters in North America. I chose the fine distinction in my blog entry because my comment and your observation beg the question as to whether DaimlerChrysler's organization is German, American or some sort of new Global amalgamation. Did the merger lead to any substantive changes within Chrysler towards product quality, design criteria, manufacturing metrics that impacted engineers? Did Daimler engineers learn anything or change their approach based upon what they have learned from Chrylser? Now that Dr. Z. has replaced Lee Iacoca in television commercials, has anything more significant changed within these businesses? Are they truly integrated or is that just for show?

The Chrysler minivans are better than the Ford and GM products, but even they don't match the Honda. (Uncharacteristically, Honda has had reliability problems with their minivan.) So, again, apples for apples, Honda better delivers what consumers want. On the other hand, when I bought my $16,000 Plymouth minivan, Honda's least expensive offering was $25,000. For the difference in price, I decided I could live with shortcomings of the Plymouth. So while the US companies can sometimes produce a more affordable vehicle, generally the vehicle is second rate, justifying the cost difference. This erodes brand viability. You have made an interesting point here. Maybe Honda doesn't necessarily have a lower cost basis? Or, did they choose, for business reasons and not economic or technical reasons, to offer a much more expensive vehicle while Chrysler (Daimler?) chose to offer a low costs Plymouth? Those kind of decisions do affect brand viability (or whatever similar business term you may choose) BUT they are business decisions and NOT necessarily predicated on available technologies or native costs.

Further, although all manufactures have produced lemons, GM and Ford have a corner on the market for producing lemons that have killed and injured people in large numbers: Corvairs that crash, Pintos that burst into flames, Blazers that do the same, Ford Explorers that roll over, etc. The cover-ups and corporate skapegoating surrounding these disasters has blemished the reputations of these companies irreparably. Honda and Toyota have not embarrassed themselves in this way. More brand erosion by Ford and GM. Again, a very interesting point but I have never seen a compilation of the data to truly know whether your assertion is correct. And, if it is true, can the engineers comment about these failures and the root causes? Why is it that Honda and Toyota engineers have not made these kind of mistakes? Is their education or professional training different? Are their organizations managed differently? Or, has the North American brand erosion occurred at Ford and GM because of the perceptions raised by a press hungry for shock stories, a litigious 'lifeboat' social structure and poor public relations measures.

The US adapted very, very slowly to building smaller fuel-efficient cars that were fun to drive. In the 60's, the 70's, and 80's the efforts of the US manufacturers to come up with anything that could compete in handling, performance, and fuel efficiency with the European cars were laughable. You have made a very damning statement to the engineers who devoted their time, energies and professional credentials to these efforts. There are far too many intelligent, dedicated and motivated engineers to suggest that their efforts were 'laughable'.

Although Ford and GM now make a few appealing smaller cars, they don't have brands that are strongly associated with appealing small cars. The two best selling vehicles in the US are the Ford F150 and the Chevy Silverado: both old tech, gas guzzling trucks. As long as buyers think little about energy cost, energy independence, and global warming, then the lumbering vehicles that Ford and GM can sell profitably will do well in the marketplace. But if consumers become more enlightened, as has apparently happened recently, then Ford and GM will be in trouble. Well, that is one of my thoughts: that Ford and GM chose not to make smaller cars for the North American market in favor of pick up trucks; that seems pretty obvious to me but, again, I'm interested in the quantifiable data about what was built, when, cost structures, etc. Are their pickup trucks really old tech? (Anecdotally: Is Toyota is making a strong statement in their commercials where a savvy-looking American home builder says he was taught to use a hammer by his Dad but now uses a pneumatic nail gone because it does a better/faster/more economical job. Is the inference that this builder isn't buying a Chevy like his Dad because Toyota pick up trucks are superior? Or is that all part of they hype and not really substantive?

Barely adequate reliability, mediocre to poor handling, poor fuel efficiency, awful safety record, corporate irresponsibility: these are things that people will overlook when the selling is easy; but when times are a little tougher they are things that separate winners from losers. I agree; but what is the truth. And, if it is true that these automotive companies are falling short, where are the engineers at these firms who can make substantive change? What are they doing? And, most of all, how can I (and you readesr) help them?

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#11
In reply to #7

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/10/2006 12:48 PM

That said, are the data truly 'detailed' and statistically valid? Yes. The data are truly detailed and statistically valid. If sample sizes are too small for statistical validity, then Consumer reports does not issue a rating in a particular category. If Consumer Reports claims that one car is Much Worse then Average in transmission frequency of repair, and that another car is Much Better than Average in that same category, you can rest assured that the first car requires transmission repairs more frequently than the second.

You have made an interesting point here. Maybe Honda doesn't necessarily have a lower cost basis? Or, did they choose, for business reasons and not economic or technical reasons, to offer a much more expensive vehicle while Chrysler (Daimler?) chose to offer a low costs Plymouth? Those kind of decisions do affect brand viability (or whatever similar business term you may choose) BUT they are business decisions and NOT necessarily predicated on available technologies or native costs. I doubt that Honda has a significantly lower cost basis than that of other manufacturers. For similarly equipped minivans, retail pricing is very close. My Plymouth was of a type (stripped) that was (and is) unavailable from Honda.

Honda appears inconsistent in pricing strategy, although what appear to be inconsistencies may simply be my inability to understand their pricing model. For example, I bought a 2004 Accord DX, which with (dealer installed) air conditioning cost $15,300, about $4,000 less than the cheapest Camry. The DX was intended to bring people into Honda dealerships (just shy of bait and switch, I'd say) with the hope of buying a car like a Camry for $4,000 less. (Once at the Honda dealership, you'd find that to buy a Honda equipped just like the basic Camry, you'd pay essentially the same price.) For those who can put up with power windows but no power locks, and who can trust the dealer to install the air correctly (which is identical to factory air), then the DX is a great value. If Honda had offered a "stripper" version of their minivan when I bought my Plymouth, I would have bought one. The Honda Odyssey was still selling well in 2006; it was the only minivan whose sales have increased since 2005. But they were nevertheless in second place as compared to the Dodge Caravan. If they offered a more basic version, I'd think they might be in first place.

Again, a very interesting point but I have never seen a compilation of the data to truly know whether your assertion is correct. And, if it is true, can the engineers comment about these failures and the root causes? Why is it that Honda and Toyota engineers have not made these kind of mistakes? Is their education or professional training different? Are their organizations managed differently? Or, has the North American brand erosion occurred at Ford and GM because of the perceptions raised by a press hungry for shock stories, a litigious 'lifeboat' social structure and poor public relations measures. Each of these questions requires a book-length answer, and several books, the first and most famous being Unsafe at any Speed, have already been written.

Regarding whether my assertion is "correct" re the public embarrassment issues, all of the issues I mentioned were very widely reported. The Corvair issue, of course gave Ralph Nader his entrée into public life. GM had fixed the suspension of the Corvair by the time the book was published, and even the original rear suspension was no worse than the early Volkswagen suspension. The Pinto issues were fodder for countless jokes – there was time when (I'd guess) 90% of all adults were aware of the Pinto issues. Iacocca's mantra at the time was "Safety doesn't sell" and, as a result, little engineering went into safety. (Until 1990 or so, Volvo stood pretty much alone in actively selling safety, although Mercedes certainly sold it in more subtle ways.) The GM Blazer and related pickups are famous for their side-mounted tanks bursting into flames in collisions. In March 2005, Reuters released a story, "GM's Blazer Ranked Deadliest Car on U.S. Roadways". The IIHS study included vehicles from 1999-2002 (after the bad gas tank years). Heavy vehicles have a huge advantage in crash statistics, (in other words, given average engineering, you are less likely to be killed in a larger, heavier vehicle) so when a heavy vehicle does so poorly, it is especially damning. The Blazer is simply very poorly engineered. There is no way to sugar coat that.

Why is it that Honda and Toyota engineers have not made these kind of mistakes? Is their education or professional training different? Are their organizations managed differently? Is their education different: yes. Are there organizations managed differently? Of course: much differently.

I think it is not the fault of the engineers. Honda and Toyota engineers live in an entirely different climate. Last time I checked, Honda was spending three times as much as Ford and GM in educating each American worker in its plants. The expectation (eroding, sadly) in Japanese companies is that you are an employee for life, and part of a family. You take real pride in your work, and are supported by management in doing whatever it takes, even if it means stopping the line, to ensure that your product is very high quality. I've consulted for very large corporations that have been bought by Japanese companies, and the transformation is remarkable, and very difficult for American workers. The Japanese workers are often viewed as obsessive by their American counterparts. Engineers in American companies are working for management focused on short term profits. Thus, when Iacocca came up with his list of attributes for the Pinto, and not one had to do with safety, how could an engineer develop a safe car??? "$2,000, not one penny more" was Iacocca's mantra. $11 dollars more to make the gas tank safe? Forget it.

If there is one overriding difference between the engineering of American and Japanese cars, I'd say it has to do entirely with management, especially at the highest levels. A focus on short term profits means that every engineer wonders if this is the stockholders meeting at which they'll decide to ditch his entire department. Under that condition, how can you possibly do your best work?

It's sad, I think, that Saturn (A Different Kind of Car Company, was it not?) is now sourcing its cars from Europe. Laid off engineers, laid off plant workers…

Or, has the North American brand erosion occurred at Ford and GM because of the perceptions raised by a press hungry for shock stories, a litigious 'lifeboat' social structure and poor public relations measures. I think this is nonsense. Wouldn't stories about the evil foreign forces taking over our auto industry make better press? Wouldn't it be more interesting to read that the number one and two best selling sedans here, created by this evil foreign force, are actually hideously unsafe, despite their five star crash ratings. Hundreds of our good citizens are killed in Japanese cars!! Wouldn't it be a real coup for a lawyer to successfully sue a powerhouse like Toyota, rather than a limping giant like GM?

Poor public relations: in the Ford Explorer / Firestone Tire debacle, Ford spent orders of magnitude more than Bridgestone for PR. Having consulted for both companies, I had the figures a few years ago, but it was at least one order of magnitude, and maybe approaching two. How much would GM need to spend on PR to convince me that the Blazer is safe and well engineered? The notion that the press is somehow rigged in favor of Toyota and Honda seems far-fetched.

You have made a very damning statement to the engineers who devoted their time, energies and professional credentials to these efforts. There are far too many intelligent, dedicated and motivated engineers to suggest that their efforts were 'laughable'. I gather you are not an engineer. I never suggested that the problem had to do with the engineers. The Pinto debacle was Iacocca's debacle, not the engineer's. To expect engineers to be the conscience for the corporation is unrealistic. Our management system prevents that from occurring. The Blazer debacle is GM management's fault, not that of the engineers, any more than it is the fault of the people in the assembly line. In the same way, our attempts to create a successful small car were laughable not because of engineering, but because of management at the highest levels.

I can think of no car from Detroit that has sold for substantially more than retail (as did the first Honda Accord). If you can name one, please do so. The American manufacturers in the 1970's had a HUGE home court advantage: They lived in the market, should have understood it, had lower transportation costs, has stronger lobbies in Washington, could wave the "Buy American" flag, etc. etc. etc. And a relatively tiny motorcycle company blows their doors off. It has little to do with the individual engineers, and everything to do with short-sighted management. Given this huge home court advantage, then there should be many examples of cars that were more successful than the Accord and Camry. If the largest company in the world was unable to out-compete a small motorcycle manufacturer, then yes, their (management's) efforts were laughable.

Are their pickup trucks really old tech? All "typical"pickup trucks, and SUVs based on pickup trucks are low tech in the sense that they are heavy, fuel guzzling, have beam axles in the rear, separate torsionally floppy frames, and most have handling and braking can be considered dangerous as compared to a modern sedan. (The pickup-based Blazer supports this contention, taken to its extreme.) Separate frame construction, beam axles and disregard for weight have been obsolete for many years in cars. However, GM and Ford pickups are no "lower tech" than Chrysler, Nissan, and Toyota pickups. (The Honda Ridgeline is not a "typical" pickup so does not fit the mold.) Old tech is not necessarily a bad thing in a truck that is used to haul heavy loads. If you don't give a hoot about issues of economy or ecology, (which puts you in the majority in the US), then I these large vehicles have their obvious appeal, as indicated by their sales numbers. But if this is what you sell most of, then you can expect that your brand is not the first one people think of when you say small, or economical, or ecological.

Or is that all part of they hype and not really substantive? Yes, I think it mainly hype. Certainly all pickups of today are not "your father's pickup." Toyota might be able to make the argument that its pickups are more reliable, if there is data to support that. But that is a different argument.

I agree; but what is the truth. And, if it is true that these automotive companies are falling short, where are the engineers at these firms who can make substantive change? What are they doing? And, most of all, how can I (and you readesr) help them? I think the truth is in the numbers. Are Ford and GM falling short? Of course. They are loosing market share pretty consistently and often teetering on the brink re revenue, stock value, etc. They can make pretty good pickups, as compared to other pickups. Another truth is that people don't care much about fuel economy or ecology, and are unaware of safety issues such as that represented by the later model Blazers. If the GM and Ford management come to believe that making good sedans is essential, then they can perhaps get into that best seller list, too. As for engineering, few positions of power at major automotive companies are held by practicing engineers.

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#13
In reply to #11

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/11/2006 12:01 PM

That said, are the data truly 'detailed' and statistically valid? Yes. The data are truly detailed and statistically valid. If sample sizes are too small for statistical validity, then Consumer reports does not issue a rating in a particular category. If Consumer Reports claims that one car is Much Worse then Average in transmission frequency of repair, and that another car is Much Better than Average in that same category, you can rest assured that the first car requires transmission repairs more frequently than the second. Thank you for enlightening me on Consumer Reports methodology. (I will write more about why that is important in a future blog.)

You have made an interesting point here. Maybe Honda doesn't necessarily have a lower cost basis? Or, did they choose, for business reasons and not economic or technical reasons, to offer a much more expensive vehicle while Chrysler (Daimler?) chose to offer a low costs Plymouth? Those kind of decisions do affect brand viability (or whatever similar business term you may choose) BUT they are business decisions and NOT necessarily predicated on available technologies or native costs. I doubt that Honda has a significantly lower cost basis than that of other manufacturers. For similarly equipped minivans, retail pricing is very close. My Plymouth was of a type (stripped) that was (and is) unavailable from Honda.

Honda appears inconsistent in pricing strategy, although what appear to be inconsistencies may simply be my inability to understand their pricing model. For example, I bought a 2004 Accord DX, which with (dealer installed) air conditioning cost $15,300, about $4,000 less than the cheapest Camry. The DX was intended to bring people into Honda dealerships (just shy of bait and switch, I'd say) with the hope of buying a car like a Camry for $4,000 less. (Once at the Honda dealership, you'd find that to buy a Honda equipped just like the basic Camry, you'd pay essentially the same price.) For those who can put up with power windows but no power locks, and who can trust the dealer to install the air correctly (which is identical to factory air), then the DX is a great value. If Honda had offered a "stripper" version of their minivan when I bought my Plymouth, I would have bought one. The Honda Odyssey was still selling well in 2006; it was the only minivan whose sales have increased since 2005. But they were nevertheless in second place as compared to the Dodge Caravan. If they offered a more basic version, I'd think they might be in first place. I appreciate your points here. Again, it speaks to business decisions that are based on market positioning choices and not technical matters. Honda may have not made the best choice with the Accord DX (in terms of features and pricing) but they still have built a car that performs to expectation. You have helped me to understand that there is a significant difference between the business decisions that contend with competitive positioning versus technical performance in a consumer market versus technical performance.

What interests me is that you have pointed out business errors that Honda has made where the court of public opinion has given Honda a free pass. My thought is that Ford and GM have been judged much more harshly in that same public court of opinion and that many of their technical performance decisions have been tainted by bad business decisions. Distinguishing between their business decisions (good and bad) and the technical performance of their products (good and bad) is very important.

Again, a very interesting point but I have never seen a compilation of the data to truly know whether your assertion is correct. And, if it is true, can the engineers comment about these failures and the root causes? Why is it that Honda and Toyota engineers have not made these kinds of mistakes? Is their education or professional training different? Are their organizations managed differently? Or, has the North American brand erosion occurred at Ford and GM because of the perceptions raised by a press hungry for shock stories, a litigious 'lifeboat' social structure and poor public relations measures. Each of these questions requires a book-length answer, and several books, the first and most famous being Unsafe at any Speed, have already been written.

Regarding whether my assertion is "correct" re the public embarrassment issues, all of the issues I mentioned were very widely reported. The Corvair issue, of course gave Ralph Nader his entrée into public life. GM had fixed the suspension of the Corvair by the time the book was published, and even the original rear suspension was no worse than the early Volkswagen suspension. The Pinto issues were fodder for countless jokes – there was time when (I'd guess) 90% of all adults were aware of the Pinto issues. Iacocca's mantra at the time was "Safety doesn't sell" and, as a result, little engineering went into safety. (Until 1990 or so, Volvo stood pretty much alone in actively selling safety, although Mercedes certainly sold it in more subtle ways.) The GM Blazer and related pickups are famous for their side-mounted tanks bursting into flames in collisions. In March 2005, Reuters released a story, "GM's Blazer Ranked Deadliest Car on U.S. Roadways". The IIHS study included vehicles from 1999-2002 (after the bad gas tank years). Heavy vehicles have a huge advantage in crash statistics, (in other words, given average engineering, you are less likely to be killed in a larger, heavier vehicle) so when a heavy vehicle does so poorly, it is especially damning. The Blazer is simply very poorly engineered. There is no way to sugar coat that. Well stated! It has been 40 years since Nader's book was published; yet the problems persist and are based on more than just negative publicity or capricious consumer whims. As such, I focus on the basic issue here: Why did the engineers not address these issues before the products were sold? Iacocca's comments aside, where does personal accountability take precedent over management edict? The engineers at Volvo made a conscious choice to focus on safety; they did so to such a degree that safety is nearly synonymous with the brand. Bravo to those engineers at Volvo!!! How can we get them to share their story, their priorities, their methodology with ALL engineers?

Why is it that Honda and Toyota engineers have not made these kinds of mistakes? Is their education or professional training different? Are their organizations managed differently? Is their education different: yes. Are there organizations managed differently? Of course: much differently.

I think it is not the fault of the engineers. Honda and Toyota engineers live in an entirely different climate. Last time I checked, Honda was spending three times as much as Ford and GM in educating each American worker in its plants. Where do you get these very important facts? Also, it seems that you are equating laborer training costs with engineering costs/quality; Is one a good measure of the other?

The expectation (eroding, sadly) in Japanese companies is that you are an employee for life, and part of a family. You take real pride in your work, and are supported by management in doing whatever it takes, even if it means stopping the line, to ensure that your product is very high quality. I've consulted for very large corporations that have been bought by Japanese companies, and the transformation is remarkable, and very difficult for American workers. The Japanese workers are often viewed as obsessive by their American counterparts. Engineers in American companies are working for management focused on short term profits. Thus, when Iacocca came up with his list of attributes for the Pinto, and not one had to do with safety, how could an engineer develop a safe car??? "$2,000, not one penny more" was Iacocca's mantra. $11 dollars more to make the gas tank safe? Forget it.

If there is one overriding difference between the engineering of American and Japanese cars, I'd say it has to do entirely with management, especially at the highest levels. A focus on short term profits means that every engineer wonders if this is the stockholders meeting at which they'll decide to ditch his entire department. Under that condition, how can you possibly do your best work? I am not suggesting it is easy to do your best work in difficult work environments but, as professionals, it is an implicit premise of our work. It is of paramount importance that we not overlook that which others may forget or diminish in importance.

It's sad, I think, that Saturn (A Different Kind of Car Company, was it not?) is now sourcing its cars from Europe. Laid off engineers, laid off plant workers… Please do not jump to the conclusion that the closure of a facility in North America in favor of a European facility is solely a short-sighted, lower labor cost matter that reflects poorly on management or the engineer's approach to quality and safety.

Or, has the North American brand erosion occurred at Ford and GM because of the perceptions raised by a press hungry for shock stories, a litigious 'lifeboat' social structure and poor public relations measures. I think this is nonsense. Wouldn't stories about the evil foreign forces taking over our auto industry make better press? Wouldn't it be more interesting to read that the number one and two best selling sedans here, created by this evil foreign force, are actually hideously unsafe, despite their five star crash ratings. Hundreds of our good citizens are killed in Japanese cars!! Wouldn't it be a real coup for a lawyer to successfully sue a powerhouse like Toyota, rather than a limping giant like GM? My apologies for not putting a question mark at the end of my probing comment. For the most part I agree with you that the ambulance chasing lawyers and hungry press reporters are not likely to focus on Ford and GM to the exclusion of Toyota and others. As such, all the other points you raise deserve even more attention..

Poor public relations: in the Ford Explorer / Firestone Tire debacle, Ford spent orders of magnitude more than Bridgestone for PR. Having consulted for both companies, I had the figures a few years ago, but it was at least one order of magnitude, and maybe approaching two. How much would GM need to spend on PR to convince me that the Blazer is safe and well engineered? The notion that the press is somehow rigged in favor of Toyota and Honda seems far-fetched. Agreed; see my comments above.

You have made a very damning statement to the engineers who devoted their time, energies and professional credentials to these efforts. There are far too many intelligent, dedicated and motivated engineers to suggest that their efforts were 'laughable'. I gather you are not an engineer. I never suggested that the problem had to do with the engineers. The Pinto debacle was Iacocca's debacle, not the engineer's. To expect engineers to be the conscience for the corporation is unrealistic. Our management system prevents that from occurring. The Blazer debacle is GM management's fault, not that of the engineers, any more than it is the fault of the people in the assembly line. In the same way, our attempts to create a successful small car were laughable not because of engineering, but because of management at the highest levels. Actually, I have a BS/MS in engineering, have several patents to show for my engineering work and several commercially successful products; but, I will admit that much of my career has been in non-engineering positions. And, more importantly, Lee Iacocca is an engineer who was educated at Lehigh. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Iacocca. And, regardless of the decision he made that you find good or bad, does that sway your own principles, your own approach, as an engineer? It is not that engineers need to be the conscience of the corporation but it behooves all of us to be mindful of our own conscience and the consequences of our actions, even in the face of pressures for short-term earnings, management goals, career aspirations and our paycheck. That is as true for engineers as it is for management, production, sales, marketing, accounting, human resources, etc.

I can think of no car from Detroit that has sold for substantially more than retail (as did the first Honda Accord). If you can name one, please do so. The American manufacturers in the 1970's had a HUGE home court advantage: They lived in the market, should have understood it, had lower transportation costs, has stronger lobbies in Washington, could wave the "Buy American" flag, etc. etc. etc. And a relatively tiny motorcycle company blows their doors off. It has little to do with the individual engineers, and everything to do with short-sighted management. Given this huge home court advantage, then there should be many examples of cars that were more successful than the Accord and Camry. If the largest company in the world was unable to out-compete a small motorcycle manufacturer, then yes, their (management's) efforts were laughable. Honda did indeed bring a valuable product to the market in the early 1970's and GM, Ford (and other North American automotive firms that are now defunct) were caught flat-footed. I believe the substantial price premium was also predicated on excessive demand generated from the first OPEC 'oil shock'. Timing does matter and Honda timed their product launch well. That said, the North American automotive companies responded with seemingly inferior products (i.e. – your Pinto story) that were rushed to market. Maybe management was short-sighted but what where the engineers doing to suggest that they were also not short-sighted?

Are their pickup trucks really old tech? All "typical"pickup trucks, and SUVs based on pickup trucks are low tech in the sense that they are heavy, fuel guzzling, have beam axles in the rear, separate torsionally floppy frames, and most have handling and braking can be considered dangerous as compared to a modern sedan. (The pickup-based Blazer supports this contention, taken to its extreme.) Separate frame construction, beam axles and disregard for weight have been obsolete for many years in cars. However, GM and Ford pickups are no "lower tech" than Chrysler, Nissan, and Toyota pickups. (The Honda Ridgeline is not a "typical" pickup so does not fit the mold.) Old tech is not necessarily a bad thing in a truck that is used to haul heavy loads. If you don't give a hoot about issues of economy or ecology, (which puts you in the majority in the US), then I these large vehicles have their obvious appeal, as indicated by their sales numbers. But if this is what you sell most of, then you can expect that your brand is not the first one people think of when you say small, or economical, or ecological. I VERY much appreciate what you have shared here. You know much more about these products than I do and I, for one, would be very grateful if you could write a blog that goes into much greater detail on the pluses/minuses, strengths/weaknesses of the various product offerings. One point jumps out at me: Most Pick Up trucks have continued to employ older technologies which might be suitable where durability, robustness and performance (my terms) matter; but if economics and ecology matter, then these products should incorporate newer design features found in sedans. If I've got this correct, then it suggests to me that the automotive engineers ARE improving the products to meet market demands but have chosen sedans as the starting point. I can appreciate why you might be restless for a quicker transition time but I'm OK with the pace.

Or is that all part of they hype and not really substantive? Yes, I think it mainly hype. Certainly all pickups of today are not "your father's pickup." Toyota might be able to make the argument that its pickups are more reliable, if there is data to support that. But that is a different argument.

I agree; but what is the truth. And, if it is true that these automotive companies are falling short, where are the engineers at these firms who can make substantive change? What are they doing? And, most of all, how can I (and you readesr) help them? I think the truth is in the numbers. Are Ford and GM falling short? Of course. They are loosing market share pretty consistently and often teetering on the brink re revenue, stock value, etc. They can make pretty good pickups, as compared to other pickups. Another truth is that people don't care much about fuel economy or ecology, and are unaware of safety issues such as that represented by the later model Blazers. If the GM and Ford management come to believe that making good sedans is essential, then they can perhaps get into that best seller list, too. As for engineering, few positions of power at major automotive companies are held by practicing engineers. And, maybe, just maybe, the best and the brightest engineers are working on other opportunities outside of the traditional automotive arena…….

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#19
In reply to #13

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/12/2006 12:08 AM

This link is to an article about the most dangerous and safest cars, based on driver deaths per million registered vehicles: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2005/iihs_safest.html

On the "safe" list, (of 13 with rates 30 or below) there are just two American cars, both Cadillacs. (The Mercury Villager is really a Nissan Quest.) Toyota and Nissan are both well represented, and Honda has one entry. One could conclude that if you want a safe GM product, you'll have to pay royally for it. Ford-engineered products are missing altogether.

On the "unsafe" list (of 14 with rates greater than 160) are an amazing 8 GM products, the Ford Explorer (of course), 3 Kias and a couple others. You could conclude that if you want a really dangerous vehicle, GM gives you loads of options. Ford gives you 2, if you included the Mazda B series (which shares its design with the Ford Ranger… from which the Explorer was derived). The leader in the killing squad is the Blazer, with a rate 30 times higher than that of the safest vehicle.

For a company to show up as poorly as GM does requires more than just bad engineers. It requires a pervasive atmosphere in which safety is largely ignored and in which short term profits are put ahead of any long term concern for the stature of the corporation or concern for the public good. Certainly, the engineers for these safety duds did not do good work. But I would argue that they work in a climate in which bad engineering is rewarded, and in which consistently good engineering is nearly impossible. It is beyond simply ignoring bad engineering, via lack of oversight. It is setting up a climate, in every layer of the organization, that reinforces bad engineering. A few bad engineers alone could not make such a hideous showing.

Volvo did an excellent PR piece 5 or six years ago that talked about how their philosophy of respect for human life and the environment permeates everything they do. It's in every word, every breath, it lives in every employee... Sure, Volvo engineers are great engineers, but they wouldn't be there if it were not for the fact that Volvo is a great company (and hopefully will remain that way, despite Ford's influence).

As Toyota overtakes GM, it is struggling with quality issues it never had before. Mercedes, too is running into quality issues. Perhaps as organizations get really huge, they simply cannot function effectively.

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/12/2006 7:35 AM

An interesting article (and somewhat shocking) but also perhaps doesn't tell the entire story. The numbers are for deaths per million years of registration so is definetly not an apples to apples comparison of safety. My point being that the type of buyer (and driver) who buys a Cavalier for example is going to me much different then one who buys a Mercedes E Class or Nissan Quest for that matter. A Cavalier is usually a "first new car" kind of vehicle bought buy younger more inexperienced drivers who are statistically going to be involved in more crashes and therfore more deaths. A comparison of fatalities vs accidents would be a better measure of vehicle safety but even then someone could argue that one vehicle may be better at avoiding the accident and that fact would be lost in the above comparison. So I guess that leaves crash testing as the only unbiased means of comparison and even many crash tests have been argued not to be real world examples of crashes. The long and the short of it being that numbers can usually be skewed to prove something if someone tries hard enough.

Shawn

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#21
In reply to #20

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/12/2006 1:02 PM

Shawn:

Frontal crash tests have been criticized for not telling the whole story because they can make small cars appear to be safer than they really are. The frontal crash test is into a barrier, which is the equivalent, in the physics involved, to a perfectly aligned head-on crash with exactly the same car (which has, of course, identical mass). So it is no harder to achieve a five star rating with a small car than it is for a large car. But pit that small car against a large car, and it will lose. Both the NHTSA and IIHS sites have words to this effect.

Certainly, the crash tests have merit, however. Responsible manufacturers have improved crash worthiness dramatically (because of the public nature of the crash test results) to the point that a five start rating is the norm for most sedans. But then there is the Blazer, with a three star rating for the driver in the frontal test. But maybe the huge weight advantage the Blazer has over sedans and small cars can offset the mediocre engineering? A reasonable question. Where can you go to find out? To actual death statistics. These indicate that even with the weight advantage, the Blazer still kills more drivers than any other vehicle.

A study done earlier at the University of Michigan found that "there is no

evidence that driver age and sex distributions increase the risk of the average SUV compared to the risk of the average midsize car or a safe smaller car model." And even without the benefit of their detailed study, (http://www.aceee.org/pubs/t021full.pdf) one would have to notice that you could hardly find closer market competitors to the dismal Blazer than the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner (both of which, like the Blazer are on truck-like frames). Both of these are on the "safest" list rather than the "least safe" list (from the article you read). Either of these kills less that 1/10 the drivers that the Blazer kills.

So, yes, one needs to look into the statistics to gain an better understanding, and doing so only paints a more starkly dismal picture for the Blazer.

One could hope that things would look better for the Cavalier. Certainly, jumping to the conclusion that Cavaliers are purchased by young drivers would let GM off the hook. But probing further makes the picture look worse for GM rather than better. In the same UM study, (which dealt with 1995 -1999 models) the Cavalier death rates were far higher than those for the Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta, and Honda Civic. In fact the rate was more than double than that for the VW Jetta. But the percentages of young drivers killed were 31% for the Jetta, 30% for the Civic and 24% for the Cavalier. The Civic and Jetta are routinely hot-rodded, the Cavalier, rarely so. (Even rarer is a Toyota Corolla hot rod, I'd guess, and the percentage of young drivers killed by the Corolla is relatively low at 16%.) So there is no support for the contention that young drivers explain the dismal performance of the Cavalier. If that were the case, then Jetta death rates should be higher, not far lower.

So while it is true that numbers can be skewed to "prove" something to those who don't probe further, in this case probing further only makes the picture re corporate irresponsibility at GM look worse, rather than better.

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#4

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/06/2006 5:57 PM

When you get right down to the nuts and bolts of product development in the US two factors come to mind. One, the manufacturing side all innovation gets reduced to the management mantra of "We've been doing it wrong for so long, why change now" and on the marketing side "What new thing (feature, accessory, flair, etc) can we tell the market that they want." Over both of these the accounting side cuts, hacks and generally butchers virtually every good idea until it only vaguely resembles the original concept. Over all the necessity of planned obsolescence to generate replacement sales, forces sales prices lower and lower so that when either a trivial or essential part (engineered to the bleeding edge of functionality) breaks prematurely the entire car line from the manufacturer is perceived as shoddy and unsatisfactory.

In order to compete and gain market share import manufacturers have successfully marketed perception and targeted the buyer segments much more accurately than their domestic counterparts. The import mfrs have adopted a system of rapid change. If a part or a system generates a significant pattern failure a running change order is executed at the production level in a matter of weeks , if not days. This pushes costs up but doesn't seem to affect sales in the focussed target market segemnt since the perception of the car's alleged superiority is reinforced. I have seen design changes on a single model occur as often as three times in a single month. The last iteration being a complete redesign of the system, that held for several years afterward. The system in discussion was a front suspension that initially got parts upgrades and then a complete geometry and parts change. This was a reaction to engineering input and had nothing to do with service failures or customer complaints, it just made the car better. Reaction like that can't be attained among the domestic manufacturers due to the beauracracy and the reluctance to stray from the prime directive, "We've been doing it wrong for so long, why change now."


The prime directive surfaces whenever a stroke of luck appears: the developement of the SUV market (for example), and whenever a market downturn occurs: the evaporation of the SUV market (for example). Consequently changes occur at a snails pace and tend to be only enough off center to go unnoticed by the buying public, which in turn adds no new sizzle to the steak, hence no new demand.

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#9
In reply to #4

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/09/2006 11:45 AM

In reply to Wrench: You've done an admirable job of taking a broader look at the sources of the problems. But, it seems to me that in an engineering forum, you've spent all your energy blaming manufacturing managers, marketing and accounting. I am not yet ready to blame anyone; rather I am interested in learning the facts about how significant the quality issues are, how dramatic the market shift has been, and how much the costs have impacted decisions that have been made.

When you get right down to the nuts and bolts of product development in the US two factors come to mind. One, the manufacturing side all innovation gets reduced to the management mantra of "We've been doing it wrong for so long, why change now" and on the marketing side "What new thing (feature, accessory, flair, etc) can we tell the market that they want." I would hate to think that all the engineers in the US are lemmings willing to submit to such shrill mantras! From my experience in the papermaking industry, the high cost for capital equipment in concert with high labor and fixed overhead costs lead many to forego change (and keep doing things as they had always been done) on a local basis that opened the door for new competitors. The same occurred in the steel industry but ask the folks at Nucor about building a viable business in North America to satisfy local demand; they have sustained success where US Steel, Bethlehem Steel and others did not. And, at the same time, the steel industry has also grown in other parts of the world where demands were better met on a local basis. If the manufacturing folks seem reluctant to change, a key factor in their thinking is that they have to work with the resources (equipment, headcount, hours per day) and goals (productivity, costs, output) that they are given. If the marketing folks seem more focused on bells and whistles (or, number of cup holders per vehicle), a key factor may be that they are trying to appeal to a broader market cross-section (i.e. not tech savvy) in a very mature industry. In that sense, they are doing the best they can to create as much value for the business (and the employees and the shareholders) as possible; presumably, for as long as they can, too. All industries go through these transitions and, if such is the case, Honda, Toyota, DaimlerChrysler, Kia, and all the others will eventually face similar challenges.

Of course, there are assumptions in my statements that may not be wholly correct. Simply, it may be that the manufacturing and marketing people are smarter, more shrewd, more competent than the engineers who are trying to develop new and better products to meet market needs given the resources that the company is willing to provide.

Over both of these the accounting side cuts, hacks and generally butchers virtually every good idea until it only vaguely resembles the original concept. Over all the necessity of planned obsolescence to generate replacement sales, forces sales prices lower and lower so that when either a trivial or essential part (engineered to the bleeding edge of functionality) breaks prematurely the entire car line from the manufacturer is perceived as shoddy and unsatisfactory. If the cost accountants are holding sway in the court of industry decisionss, it is also a signal of industry maturity. But, please be mindful, cost accountants are very quantitatively oriented and they are just as eager as any other discipline to want success, enhance the value of the enterprise and put food on the table for their families. In general, they speak a very similar language to engineers that is based upon numerical comparisons based upon the facts as they are known and assumptions that are clearly defined. If anything, accountants are a collaborative resource for the engineers who are trying to bring new and better products to market.

In order to compete and gain market share import manufacturers have successfully marketed perception and targeted the buyer segments much more accurately than their domestic counterparts. The import mfrs have adopted a system of rapid change. If a part or a system generates a significant pattern failure a running change order is executed at the production level in a matter of weeks , if not days. This pushes costs up but doesn't seem to affect sales in the focussed target market segemnt since the perception of the car's alleged superiority is reinforced. I have seen design changes on a single model occur as often as three times in a single month. The last iteration being a complete redesign of the system, that held for several years afterward. The system in discussion was a front suspension that initially got parts upgrades and then a complete geometry and parts change. This was a reaction to engineering input and had nothing to do with service failures or customer complaints, it just made the car better. Reaction like that can't be attained among the domestic manufacturers due to the beauracracy and the reluctance to stray from the prime directive, "We've been doing it wrong for so long, why change now." Why aren't the engineers at North American automotive firms adroit enough to implement the systems that you mention others use! It seems to me you are suggesting the engineers know what is needed but are not able to get the job done because people who do not have the technical training have more influence on technically-driven matters. I have heard that comment a lot. And, I do NOT agree. If engineers are not getting approval for their programs, it suggests poor communications skills (and, yes, that includes salesmanship and shrewdness).


The prime directive surfaces whenever a stroke of luck appears: the developement of the SUV market (for example), and whenever a market downturn occurs: the evaporation of the SUV market (for example). Consequently changes occur at a snails pace and tend to be only enough off center to go unnoticed by the buying public, which in turn adds no new sizzle to the steak, hence no new demand. So, when it is easy to win, we do. When it is not, we don't try?

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/09/2006 4:06 PM

All industries go through these transitions and, if such is the case, Honda, Toyota, DaimlerChrysler, Kia, and all the others will eventually face similar challenges. They already do. The oriental manufacturers are more adept at constant change. Daimler bought Chrysler for the ability to bring new designs to market more quickly than the engineers in Europe could. In the US we can bring "new" designs to market but under the skin they are the identical product. In the far east factories are cheaply built to accomodate a single product line. When the production run is finished, the new product designed from a clean sheet of paper goes to production on a new line in a new purpose built factory. The old one is torn down. This always keeps the product flow at peak efficiency. There are no turns, transfers or unnecessary merges throughout the production process. Start up can begin on the new line before production ceases on the old one. Once production ceases the old facility can be razed and the space dedicated to the next upcoming project as opposed to the US method of producing an inventory backlog to cover sales as the plant is shut down and converted to the new production line along with all the compromises and modifications to fit it to the old space.

Of course, there are assumptions in my statements that may not be wholly correct. Simply, it may be that the manufacturing and marketing people are smarter, more shrewd, more competent than the engineers who are trying to develop new and better products to meet market needs given the resources that the company is willing to provide. It seems to me that there is a reluctance on the part of management at all levels to risk undertaking a concept that has previously experienced failure. General Motors, for example, has the most technically adept technology center in the world. The ability to conduct pure research, is in my mind, unmatched anywhere, but their implementation of new technology is the slowest and least successful of any manufacturer. European Manufacturers have been using fuel injection, for example, since 1970. When GM was working with fuel injection in the fifities and early sixties it was deemed dreadfully expensive, mostly unreliable and ill suited to adaptation in a production street car. GM's first attempt in limited production cars didn't arrive until 1985 and even then the fuel injection had to look like a carburetor or management wouldn't buy it, based on the notion that the buyers wouldn't or couldn't master the ramifications of a new technology. Needless to say the results were less than sterling but with subsequent development became serviceable. The negative part helped reinforce the negative concept that preexisted.

Why aren't the engineers at North American automotive firms adroit enough to implement the systems that you mention others use! It seems to me you are suggesting the engineers know what is needed but are not able to get the job done because people who do not have the technical training have more influence on technically-driven matters. I have heard that comment a lot. And, I do NOT agree. If engineers are not getting approval for their programs, it suggests poor communications skills (and, yes, that includes salesmanship and shrewdness). It's just a matter of a few geeks versus many non geeks. It's very difficult in a huge beauracracy to communicate esoteric long term improvements to a population of technically disinterested, short term results oriented people.

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#14
In reply to #10

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/11/2006 12:12 PM

All industries go through these transitions and, if such is the case, Honda, Toyota, DaimlerChrysler, Kia, and all the others will eventually face similar challenges. They already do. The oriental manufacturers are more adept at constant change. Daimler bought Chrysler for the ability to bring new designs to market more quickly than the engineers in Europe could. In the US we can bring "new" designs to market but under the skin they are the identical product. In the far east factories are cheaply built to accomodate a single product line. When the production run is finished, the new product designed from a clean sheet of paper goes to production on a new line in a new purpose built factory. The old one is torn down. This always keeps the product flow at peak efficiency. There are no turns, transfers or unnecessary merges throughout the production process. Start up can begin on the new line before production ceases on the old one. Once production ceases the old facility can be razed and the space dedicated to the next upcoming project as opposed to the US method of producing an inventory backlog to cover sales as the plant is shut down and converted to the new production line along with all the compromises and modifications to fit it to the old space. So, GM and Ford have not chosen (or are not able?) to build flexible manufacturing facilities in North America? What a sad commentary.

Of course, there are assumptions in my statements that may not be wholly correct. Simply, it may be that the manufacturing and marketing people are smarter, more shrewd, more competent than the engineers who are trying to develop new and better products to meet market needs given the resources that the company is willing to provide. It seems to me that there is a reluctance on the part of management at all levels to risk undertaking a concept that has previously experienced failure. General Motors, for example, has the most technically adept technology center in the world. The ability to conduct pure research, is in my mind, unmatched anywhere, but their implementation of new technology is the slowest and least successful of any manufacturer. European Manufacturers have been using fuel injection, for example, since 1970. When GM was working with fuel injection in the fifities and early sixties it was deemed dreadfully expensive, mostly unreliable and ill suited to adaptation in a production street car. GM's first attempt in limited production cars didn't arrive until 1985 and even then the fuel injection had to look like a carburetor or management wouldn't buy it, based on the notion that the buyers wouldn't or couldn't master the ramifications of a new technology. Needless to say the results were less than sterling but with subsequent development became serviceable. The negative part helped reinforce the negative concept that preexisted. Your fuel injection story speaks to the larger issue of how to stay focused on a good idea long enough to reach commercial success while also realizing an idea whose time has not yet come. There may be great substance to your perspective here that might help usher along some current programs. GM is spending vast sums on Fuel Cells in German and US facilities. Many believe the technology will not ever be commercially viable. Hindsight is always 20/20. It would be very sad to get this one wrong. The same can also be said for much of the electronics technology that now pervades the automotive arena. GM has made a wager that othes have not; time will tell if they have made a good wager.

Why aren't the engineers at North American automotive firms adroit enough to implement the systems that you mention others use! It seems to me you are suggesting the engineers know what is needed but are not able to get the job done because people who do not have the technical training have more influence on technically-driven matters. I have heard that comment a lot. And, I do NOT agree. If engineers are not getting approval for their programs, it suggests poor communications skills (and, yes, that includes salesmanship and shrewdness). It's just a matter of a few geeks versus many non geeks. It's very difficult in a huge beauracracy to communicate esoteric long term improvements to a population of technically disinterested, short term results oriented people. So, there are a greater number of people who focus on and are attracted to 'sizzle', to few who can see the larger picture and even fewer who can make a cogent case for the greater good? Interesting point........

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/11/2006 2:52 PM

GM is spending vast sums on Fuel Cells in German and US facilities. Many believe the technology will not ever be commercially viable. Hindsight is always 20/20. It would be very sad to get this one wrong. The same can also be said for much of the electronics technology that now pervades the automotive arena. GM has made a wager that othes have not; time will tell if they have made a good wager. If hydrogen is to make inroads into the auto industry fuel cells are the only viable option. Burning H2 in air has too many biohazards, hydrazine (rocket fuel) beng the most toxic. Hydrazine is or can be spontaneously produced at all hydrogen production and storage facilities so self serve refueling is oretty much out of the question.

As far as electronics go, there has always been a reluctance to adapt or adopt technologies across engineering disciplines. The latest fiasco in my mind is the reluctance of auto manufacturers to adopt standard network technologies in the development of CAN systems in cars. For reliability and serviceability they SAE should have joined forces with the ISO folks and settled on an open standard based on conventional IP networking practices. As it stands each of the manufacturers has developed a methodology unique to their protected applications. That's fine, I suppose, in a closed in house environment but when your product is dispersed world wide the likelihood of outside persons having access to proprietary technology is remote to nil; whereas something like the 7 layer IP protocol stack is universal. Just a case of one discipline reinventing the wheel.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/11/2006 3:13 PM

Well, Wrench, you must have a prescription for what ails certain parts of the automotive market. How do we fill the half-empty glass you have shared with us?

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/11/2006 3:19 PM

empty 50% out of the benefits packages and 35% of the wages from the UAW workers and the companies may survive. Anything less and they are doomed to inexorable extinction

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#18
In reply to #15

Re: Automotive Share Shift Assessment

10/11/2006 5:01 PM

The main problems with pure compressed hydrogen are (A) the need for a strong container for the 3000 PSI or more pressure it is under or (B). the need for a cryogenic container to take the liquid hydrogen.

Both of these are costly as well as risky/.

They can also store the hydrogen as a complex with other materials. That also costs money and adds risk.

One method is to carry the hydrogen around as alcohol, which can then be used in a fuel cell made for it. This saves the high cost of making hydrogen as well as the storage costs and distribution costs. Alcohol can be stored and distributed with systems made for gasoline.

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