Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Automotive Bailout

(Originally posted 11/22/2008)

Recent news stories have chronicled the push by the "Big 3" American automotive manufacturers for a "Bailout" by the U.S. Government. I won't go into their reasons and pleas.. those are better found elsewhere. Correctly, the US Congress has temporarily denied the request and sent the CEO's home to return with a "plan". What will this "plan" contain? That is the big question. There is some focus on having product that is environmentally friendly and less dependence on fossil fuels. While that is part of the answer it alone will not solve the issues.

We've had the same basic design in vehicles since the early days. 4 wheels, axles, drivetrain, an engine and steering. Around all of this fits a body. The OEMs release yearly "models" that appeal primarily to our visual senses. The basic "vehicle" doesn't really change. Our society today has changed. We want uniqueness in our life. We don't want to wait on anything. Our lives move at a very fast pace. We expect everything around us to move accordingly. Result of this is that the automotive industry must reinvent itself to support this uniqueness and fast paced lifestyle of it's customer.

MRP II/ERP, Production lines, firm zones, releases, schedules and other relics of the past no longer work. The successful company of the future will toss out all of these concepts of the last century. They will find new processes that will be the death of the "model " and "model year" as we know it. Every vehicle will be uniquely configured by the end customer and delivered in a fast timeframe. This so called "cookie-cooker" car where the customer can choose his own configuration will require a total rework of the production and supply chain processes.

Trying to have incremental changes won't make it. Usually what happens in that case is more layers are added to the processes, more reports are generated but totally new processes are not innovated. We need this innovation. It last happened in the 1960s when there was a strong focus on getting to the moon. We need to rediscover that level of innovation. Totally new processes and products need to happen in terms of months, not years. It can be done. Not without risk but it takes risk to really have innovation.

Two quotes attributed to Henry Ford are: " Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently" and "Life is a series of experience, each of which makes us bigger even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and griefs which we endure help us in our marching onward."

Congress is right, a plan is needed. What is not needed is a bailout that finances business as usual.

Lets reinvent the industry and march onward.

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