I have to confess that my criticism of Delphi and others in the automobile industry have been as much emotional as logical. I grew up in a manufacturing family – never occurred to me to make my living doing anything else. I also grew up in a very patriotic family. There is no question in my mind that we are all enormously blessed to live in the greatest nation there has ever been on earth. And I was always able to clearly see that the two – manufacturing and the greatness of America – are completely intertwined. I believed that "what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa".
I have never worked in automotive, but I played baseball as a kid in a big open field in Lansing, Michigan on the banks of the Grand River across from the big Oldsmobile plant. My father worked his way through college turning axles at night in that plant. My grandfather supported his family by buying up all of the leftover fasteners in the plant at the end of each model run for scrap prices, then having my mother, her brothers and sisters sort them out in an old warehouse, and selling them back to GM for the next model run at inflated prices. It is the plant Ransom Olds – who cranked up an assembly line before Henry Ford did – built up after the original Olds plant in Detroit burned down.
All of this makes it hard to sit back and rationally discuss today’s announcement by General Motors that they are cutting 30,000 jobs, which hit Lansing especially hard. Of course, they have to make the cuts. Even the General can’t hemorrhage $3 billion a year and survive. What makes it hard is the knowledge that, unless lightening strikes the Ren Center in Detroit, sparking a miraculous enlightenment, this move is just one more giant step backwards in what can only be the eventual demise of the company I grew up thinking was the greatest institution on the planet.
In doing a little research for this blog, I Googled ‘GM 30,000 jobs’ and there was the speech GM boss Rick Wagoner gave – only it wasn’t him. It was Bob Stempel fifteen years ago. Same speech – just about the same numbers – same everything. At that time, "The Machine That Changed The World" was somewhat new and the article I read pointed to GM’s commitment to lean manufacturing as the eventual salvation for the company. Fifteen years later it still has not happened.
In all of the commiserating about legacy costs, fuel costs and the falling popularity of big SUV’s, what seems to pass unnoticed are manhours per car 20% or more higher than Toyota, dismal inventory turns and manufacturing cycle times, and continued lagging in manufacturing quality.
There are times when I wish I did not know quite so much about lean manufacturing, and this is one of them. All of us who spend a big part of our lives looking intensely at Toyota and Honda, then looking at GM and other big American manufacturers can see exactly what is wrong. We keep hoping that the next GM announcement is going to be the one that indicates that they have finally seen the light, but it never comes.
I am sure it would be less frustrating to be one of those Detroiters or Wall Street types who honestly believe that all GM needs to get back on top is a hot new car design or for the government to somehow take them off the hook for the legacy costs. While such dreamers are hopelessly naive, at least they have hope. It is tough for me to have much of that for GM right now.