Attitude in Detroit

I just finished reading Douglas Rushkoff’s “Get Back in the Box” this past week. Which, I highly recommend it to anyone in product development. In it he shares a recent consulting experience he had to one of the Big 3 US automakes. He describes their management as having the feeling that the industry is passing them by, and that they are a adrift.

Alot of us have been complaining about the decisions that Detroit seems to be taking, but after reading this I realized the problem is different. It’s not that Detroit is making bad decisions, it is that management is indecisive. That trait is certainly clear now looking back at the cars directed to nobody, like the previous Taurus, almost anything from GM and the very disappointing Chrysler compact, midsize and full-size cars (until the 300).

When I came to college for ID I had really thought that auto design is where I would want to spend the rest of my life.

After talking to some friends who interviewed and worked at GM, and working on a GM sponsored student design project, I realized it’s just a total mess.

There have been a few decent products to come out of the companies, but thats few and far between the massive amounts of just mediocre, lifeless products that they’re putting out. My experience and the experiences I’ve heard of have basically been that GM in general is just very backwards thinking. The forward thinking ideas at GM that come out of their APEX division get put into a box and warehoused, very rarely they get to see the light of day and when they do we end up with stuff like the SSR.

It seems like theres so many layers of management involved in the process that nothing can truly get accomplished. Even in the student run project there ended up being a huge conflict between the GM engineers and designers. After being given our design brief, the GM engineers who gave us the project literally told us as soon as the designers left the room that “GM does not build cars like what you just had described. If you design something that radical we won’t bother looking at it”.

That kind of internal meshing just shows that A: The vast majority of engineers are super conservative idiots who believe that their companies success is relying on ensuring the plastic used in their dashboards is as cheap as possible.

Even if Hybrid technology isn’t all its cracked up to be, Toyota and Honda continue to improve their market share because people get the message that they are forward thinking vehicles.

Yeah, that’s what it shows. :unamused: You can’t blame GM engineering for the Aztek, Pontiac’s body cladding, Buick’s one foot in the grave product lineup, the whole company’s crappy interiors, or a whole litany of GM abominations. You can, however, blame them for coarse engines, mushy suspension, vague dynamics, and shoddy build quality. The fact is, at GM there’s plenty of blame to go around. They’ll be in Chapter 11 within 5 years, and maybe then they can carve out a decent car company from the ashes. Probably not though.

are you kidding five years, they wont last another 24 months. hide an watch, GM is going down.

GM is not going to just up and disappear at any point in the near future. They are going to have to undergo some serious changes, particularly with their labor unions, but theres enough money floating around corporate America to keep them alive and making bad products for some time.

Just as they did with Chrysler in the 80’s, the government will help GM out. There is too much at stake. Too many jobs. Even though GM sucks, they are an integral part of our economy. It’s amazing how many people still buy those cars when Toyota and Honda offer FAR better products for the same price, if not lower.

I think we may see a foreign company buying GM brands individually and turning them around one by one. For instance, what if Nissan (Renault) buys Pontiac and completely redevelops their product line? How cool would that be? The Skyline could be the next GTO. American muscle, Japanese build quality. Just a thought.

uh…same money? Have you visited a dealer? You can get an equivalent GM or Ford product for 10% less than a similar import. Remember the adds, “act now for $5000 GM cash discount with 0% APR financing” yada yada yada. One of the big problems with the big 3 is they have too much capacity, so they are forced to sell off their over-production at deep discounts. Great for buyers, bad for business.

It’s similar to the situation that Harley was in during the '80’s when AMF owned them. They produced too many bikes that were too generic to suit any of their customers.

As for foreign makes buying brands…I doubt it will happen. If you look at any of those branding studies, all of the foreign makes are on top. If you owned trump towers why would you buy a cardboard shack?

Guys has any of you ACCUTUALLY sat a “new” GM product (read Buick Lucerne, GM large SUV’s, all Caddy’s, and The Pontiac G6 or Solstice)? I just wanna se how much recent experience is backing up all this talk.

Those cars are leaps and bounds better than the cars they replace in a lot of ways (fit and finish, materials, drivetrain (you name it and its better than what was their before)). Plus I think that these cars are excellent forerunners of the type of/quality levels that will be brought to bear in the next GM product rush (2007-2010?).

Also for you consideration I am a design student and most all of my peers approve of the truly all new cars (not the impala bandage job or the presto chango regal to Lacrosse cars). That approval doesn’t really extend to the trucks for obvious reasons. Its just gonna be hard to get a group of people that are me attuned to Ferrari than Ford to pay attention to a product like a truck.


Thanx Mr.914 for the book suggestion.

The biggest problem that I have always seen with GM was that they were spread to thin. To many brands, focusing on Quanity over Quality. Toyota has now passed GM at the end of last quarter as the largest Auto manufacture in the world. That is scary.

Hopefully Bob Lutz will have it turned around with in the next 2 years. He said expect dramatic changes by 2008-2009.

The other thing to be aware of is, China is now making cars, with good engines for cheap.

My favorite car at the last new auto show was the Chevy Malibu Maxx. Design wise, it’s not lighting the world on fire, but it certainly is a handsome car, especially from the back where it looks very chiseled Opel-European. Inside, the car has sunroofs front and back, something that I love. It has a sliding rear seat, creating a more versatile interior. I was surprised to find that it is some 8 inches shorter than the sedan, but featured more leg room. Overall, the interior seemed well screwed together, and the plastics were as decent as most Japanese cars.

The downside is mechanical. Chevy insists and sticking with their 3.5L pushrod V6 from 1917 with a 4 speed automatic from the '57 belaire.

Mechanically, things are better with the Malibu’s Swedish sister, the 9-3 combi. Unfortunately, that’s expensive and the turbo drinks gas as bad as the Chevy’s V6.

Not sure if you were aware of it, but the Maxx is actually based on the Opel Signum platform. Another one of the Euro->American rebadgings.

Despite the announcement that GM/Delphi are offering a widespread buyout of employees to get them to retire early, GMC financing also annouced that they have more problems than previously reported:

The discovery of huge hidden losses at General Motors’ finance arm has raised fresh fears of bankruptcy at the world’s biggest carmaker, sending tremors through the credit derivatives markets.

The struggling group asked for a filing delay after admitting to an extra $2 billion (£1.1 billion) in accounting errors at its finance arm GMAC, raising total losses last year to $10.6 billion. The news triggered a sharp spike in the cost of default insurance on GMAC’s bonds, rising 75 basis points overnight.

Car-parts supplier Dana Corp. defaulted last week on $2.5 billion of debt, following Delphi and Tower Automotive last year.

Concern that General Motors may now be sliding towards the brink – linked to an estimated $200 billion in credit derivatives – has renewed fears that the overheated credit swap market could seize up in a crisis.

GM is going down and they are potentially going to take a lot of companies with them. They owe so much money all over the place that a bail-out is nearly impossible, especially considering that the US government just had to raise the debt limit to keep from going broke itself.

At this point, GM couldn’t build its own coffin without borrowing the cash.

mmjohns: GMAC having difficulty is the worst of all scenarios. I read about the extra $2 billion losses last year, but I didn’t know it was all from GMAC. That is big! It has to be remembered that GMAC lends money for more than cars, they also have mortgages, credit cards and business loans. If they go down, it is a severe hit to the US financial system.

The good news is, even if they file for bankruptcy, the banks that are holding the bills won’t let them fold entirely. Expect alot of profitable sections to be sold off (GMAC), some sections closed (Buick) and some reorganized with massive job cuts (Delphi, Chevy). Remember, if they close entirely, the banks lose all their money.

Good point even the banks that hold the notes do not want to see failure

I’ve rented recent GM products (including the Malibu Maxx). You’re right that they are better than GM’s previous efforts, and that puts them about on par with Toyota and Honda- from 10 or 15 years ago. Some of their cars don’t look bad, but the interiors still suck, and the ride and handling are dire. The Malibu Maxx had controls in strange places, nasty plastics, and it waddled down the road. Better than the utter shitbox Malibu I rented 5 years ago (which literally made me feel shame in being an American), but nowhere near what I could find in a Toyota. Detroit keeps benchmarking their competition, forgetting that the competition is improving at the same time.

You have my total agreement on the Maxx. but the cars I listed in the quotation are the ones that I think are on or close to the mark. Plus those cars in specific I think bode well for the 07-09 product rush that is planned (with new zeta, epsilon 2, theta, freshened delta, new small trucks/ SUVs, NO MINI VANS (I hope to god) and a all new full size un body SUV product line

Maybe this is the first step to recovery. Step one is admitting you have a problem, right?