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Posts Tagged ‘GM’

Books

January 5th, 2012 Comments off

It’s that time of year – when we all get to enjoy the bounty which was bestowed upon us by family and friends for the holidays…  By that, I mean presents. And in my case, those presents are quite often automotive-related.

This year, I received a copy of Bob Lutz’s book Car Guys vs Bean Counters – The Battle for the Soul of American Business.  It’s a pretty interesting inside-look at Bob’s final tenure at General Motors, beginning in 2001, up through and including the bankruptcy and restructuring of GM.  Once the reader gets past Lutz waxing moronically about the left-wing-socialist-media propagating the great hoax of global warming, and ignorant government bureaucrats promulgating regulations which favored foreign manufacturers (which, in his mind, played a role in the events that led to GM’s demise), there are interesting tidbits about the inept product-development practices within GM that led to mediocre cars that didn’t appeal to consumers.  Lutz’s focus is product design – creating vehicles that people want to buy – and he disparages what he calls the overly academic, data-driven analysis approach that the glut of MBAs that infested the ranks within GM espoused.  His bottom line is that you must create a great product in order to succeed.  Developing streamlined, efficient business processes to produce perfectly pedestrian vehicles will lead to failure.  Cars should be created by car guys. With this, I agree.  (Lutz’s book also gives an interesting GM-centric perspective on the government bailout of the company, which is a nice counterpoint to [while being consistent with] the version contained in Steven Rattner’s book Overhaul.  Which I was given last Christmas…)

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Coincidentally, I also received another book this year:  Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything, by Stephen Bayley.  This mini-coffee-table book views automobiles as art, and the vast majority of its pages contain black-and-white photos of Bayley’s list of the most beautiful 86 cars ever produced.  The first 30 pages, however, contain text that set the stage for the reader, and describe how the automobile was at one time designed to appeal to the senses.  These moving masterpieces were metaphors for personal achievement, and captured the essence of what people aspired to be.  They moved people, rather than just moving them around.

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…Which I think is sort of what Lutz was trying to get GM back to.  It’s sort of ironic that the beginning of Bayley’s book effectively summarizes the point that Lutz is trying to make:  “…It was art that really made the car America’s primary product.  And later Europe’s, then Japan’s.  The management consultancy pioneer, Alfred McKinsey, believed everything can be measured and if you can measure it, you can manage it.  But art is as notoriously resistant to both measurement and management as it is powerful in its effect.  From the moment car manufacturers discovered art in the 1920s, there have been attempts to manage it, to systematize it, but none has been successful.  Even in an industry as hierarchical and stratified as automobile manufacturing, the great cars have been products of creative genius – aberrant, cussed, irreverent – not of scientific management.”

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As a final note, I also received a copy of Peter De Lorenzo’s book Witch Hunt: Essays on the U.S. Auto Industry and the Blithering Idiots Who Almost Killed It.  I’ve only just begun reading it.  While De Lorenzo, too, makes the point that, in the car business, product is king, the lesson that I’m really taking from this book is:  Bloggers shouldn’t publish their work in hard-cover.

 

Contrast

June 27th, 2011 Comments off

Last month, Autoblog Green writer Eric Loveday wrote about an interview with Bob Lutz – former Ford/Chrysler/BMW executive, most known for his recently-ended stint at General Motors where he retired as Vice Chairman of Global Product Development.  Now, as a car-guy, I’ve always sort of admired Maximum Bob.  He’s a car-guy as much as a businessman, and he oversaw the development of more than a few worthwhile vehicles in his career.  But, he does have some flaws in his thinking, which are painfully revealed in the Loveday interview…

Bob Lutz

Bob’s a climate-change skeptic, and it shows in his opinions related to CAFE regulations and the federal government’s role in the auto industry.  He says of the initial CAFE rules from the 1970’s,The feds basically handed our market to the Japanese.”  He then describes how the American automakers made perfectly desirable vehicles until CAFE came about, forcing the domestic industry to abruptly redesign and re-engineer everything in order to comply.  And since change is hard, American auto quality suffered.  He also blames the State Department for granting Japan a favorable exchange-rate, making American competitiveness even more difficult.  (I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure the State Department doesn’t set exchange rates.  Am I wrong?)

Bob describes the U.S. federal government as the only one in the world that is hostile to its own auto industry because of the policies it places “against” the automakers, born of what he calls a complete lack of understanding of what is technologically feasible.  He describes a mandate of 42 mpg by 2025 as physically impossible, tantamount to mandating that all cars have to “hover off the highway by two inches.”  (For what it’s worth, 42 mpg is the below the range of what NHTSA has been considering as the 2025 CAFE rule; instead, the agency has been considering improvements of 3%-6% per year beginning in 2017 within the realm of possibility, equating to 47 mpg to 62 mpg by 2025.  Additionally, today the White House “unofficiallyreleased a proposed CAFE target of 56.2 mpg.  I wonder what Bob thinks about that?  …Actually, I’m pretty sure I already know…)

Bill Ford

In contrast, Bill Ford – Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company – recently spoke at the TED2011 conference, and penned an opinion piece on CNN.com, describing the global gridlock we face as the number of cars on the planet doubles or quadruples over the coming decades from the nearly 1 billion vehicles we have now.  Bill accurately describes the downside:  traffic jams, squandered time, stifled economic opportunity, and the resulting loss of mobility options and lower standard of living.  He then suggests a few solutions:  better mass transit systems, smart cars, smart infrastructure, and cooperation among corporations, entrepreneurs, NGOs, universities, and governments.  In stark opposition to Lutz’s tack, Ford anticipates the unsustainability of the current paradigm, and envisions possibilities to overcome the challenge.  (Lutz, on the other hand, only envisions external factors as the cause of difficulty for his industry.)

The contrast between these two auto executives – and their view of the world – couldn’t be more apparent.  It’s a good thing for GM that Lutz is now a former executive.

Pet Peeves

February 27th, 2011 Comments off

What’s wrong with this picture?

2012 Saab 9-5 Sportwagon

If you’re thinking, “It’s a new Saab, but Saab went the way of coelacanth when GM went through its extreme makeover a couple years ago,” you’d only partially be right.  While GM did shed the Saab brand, Dutch company Spyker Cars NV picked up the reins (for a cool $74M), and the brand lives on.

No, the problem with this picture (and ALL of the pictures of Saab’s new 9-5 Sportwagon) is with the tires.  The directional tires.  The directional tires that are mounted in the wrong direction.

Michelin Pilot Sport Tread Pattern (mounted correctly)

The tread-pattern on a directional tire is designed such that, as the tire rolls forward, the channels in the tread evacuate the water from the center towards the outside, allowing the tire to more safely move over wet surfaces.  But to do so, the tires must be installed correctly.  When mounted in reverse, the tread acts in the opposite direction, pumping water directly under the center of the tire – and significantly reducing wet traction in the process.

I’m constantly surprised at the number of cars I see with directional tires that are mounted incorrectly.  I figure, either the owner (or their service department) doesn’t really understand how tires work, or the driver really enjoys hydroplaning.  It’s a pet-peeve of mine.  …But for a car company to release photos of a new model shod with the rubber reversed?

…Am I the only one bothered by this?

Categories: Tires Tags: , ,

The Sound of Silence

February 19th, 2010 Comments off

Seems I’m linking back to myself a lot lately…

Last year, I bored you with a description of a speaker embedded in a car’s exhaust system, used to help tune the exhaust note.  Well, it turns out Honda/Acura has been doing something similar for a while, only using the speakers that are already inside your car.

They call it Active Sound Control, and the system uses anti-phase sound waves (which I also previously talked about) to cancel the “unwanted” engine noises from the cabin, while allowing the more pleasing snarls to tickle your eardrums when the throttle is to the floor.  (The irony here is that I’ve yet to come across a Honda or Acura that actually produced any sound which could be described as aurally exciting.)  Honda is offering the technology on their new Crosstour (a car which I’m oddly intrigued by), and Acura on their TSX, RL, and ZDX.

This is cool technology.  But I can’t help but think it’s just technology for technology’s sake – sort of a Rube Goldberg device for correcting the deficiencies of their engine designers and exhaust system engineers.  (Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Honda employed an over-engineered solution for a simple taskbut that time I was impressed.)

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps using the stereo to cover up engine sounds is a more efficient solution to unwanted cabin noise than a well-designed engine, proper attention paid to exhaust tuning, a chassis developed with NVH in mind, and sufficient levels of sound-absorbing insulation.  (For what it’s worth, GM chose the insulation route with their Quiet Tuning technology in their Buick brand.)

In my opinion, a more holistic approach would be better than Active Sound Control.  As in most cases, it’s better to treat the source than to mask the symptom.