MHM Quick Poll Results: U.S. Automakers Are Not Lean

March 1, 2006
In MHMs February Quick Poll survey, four out of five respondents (101 total) reported that they do not think U.S. automakers are lean. Respondents said

In MHM’s February Quick Poll survey, four out of five respondents (101 total) reported that they do not think U.S. automakers are lean. Respondents said they thought administrative waste, model proliferation, lack of union support and government cooperation, and poor management decisions are getting in the way of process excellence (and profit).

Respondents attention quickly moved to the market perception of U.S. cars vs. foreign nameplates. While most are naturally inclined to make the patriotic choice, poor quality and a perceived poor quality of domestic brands will continue to hinder sales.

Comment Summary:


Posted By: Daniel Greene, 3/2

It will matter little how lean US automakers become if they do not produce a quality product. The Consumer Reports recently released top 10 auto picks list reflects the pragmatism of American consumers - we buy quality, and that means we buy foreign autos. The parts & workmanship in American vehicles are of very poor quality, and patriotic appeal will not overcome those shortcomings in the marketplace.


Posted By: Chuck Edwards, 2/28

While the industry has been making moves toward lean principles in some of their manufacturing and engineering processes, the vast amount of waste in other areas (HR, labor contracts, design, marketing, distribution, sourcing) prevent this industry from being in any way considered lean. 3-4 year product planning cycles, badge-engineering of multiple brands, inefficient distribution and inventory deployment patterns all suggest the need for some radically new thinking and perhaps some entirely new business models for some of these functions. It will take cooperation from unions and governments, but the automakers themselves have to start the ball rolling with some new ideas.


Posted By: Carl Benander, 2/20

Both Labor and Management need to understand the basic question of competition. What good is a job at any price (20, 30, ? $/hr) if you have no job.

I remember when the GM Framingham plant closed. The Union agreed to reductions, not great and not many, but in the correct spirit and direction. Then, management announced a substantial non-union bonus. Their rationalle was that the Union had several increases, whereas the non-union had none. The Union members felt betrayed. Then the plant closed anyway.

There is at present, a substantial amount of material price increase pressure in Industry in general. This is counterproductive to our competitive position in the world.


Posted By: David Drickhamer, MHM editor-in-chief, 2/15

Whether or not you believe it is important to “Buy American,” the question is whether General Motors and Ford (and DaimlerChrysler) can continue to eliminate waste and improve their processes from the factory floor to engineering and design and the corporate offices. There are some major legacy and cultural issues that are slowing them down, but the OEMs have made and continue to make significant progress. I just wonder if they are making enough progress fast enough. Market share and profitability have been and will continue to be the primary indicators.


Posted By: Ron Bright, 2/14

Yes, GM &FORD are trying very hard,the unions will have to give in a little but, if they go down so will the U.S. people that forign cars in my opion are stupid.

You should just cut your own throats. For 100 cars that GM sells it supports 23 AMERICAN JOBS outside it"s own work force TOYOTA only 6. Get the picture !!!

BUY AMERICAN!! And don't tell me that the auto transplants are AMERICAN MADE,they are basically only assembled here with mostly imported parts,because they

are not as stupid as we are when it comes to protecting jobs of their own. By the way I do not work for any auto company ,I work for one of the last AMERICAN MADE air tool company's left in the USA. If we all don't wake up we will be working at WALMART OR MCDONALDS. THANK-YOU


Posted By: Harold Becklin, 2/14

No. To become Lean we need to apply "Human Performance Technology" to change our Organization "Culture." (See Handbook of Human Performance Technology, 3rd Edition co-published by Pfeiffer and the International Society for Performance Improvement). Make the transition to Human Performance Technology (HPT) is the only way to "Lean."


Posted By: Bill McCarthy, 2/17

Being a native Mainer, and thus being used to the lower wages and benefits common to my state, I may have a different view than others.

Also, what I've been told may or may not be true, so here goes.

I believe that the quality of American motor vehicles slipped badly in the 70s and took most of the 80s to recover to reasonable levels. I blame this on both corporate and rank and file alike. Now that the quality is approaching world class yet again, many are not willing to listen or buy just yet. They remember not getting what they paid for, and the bitter taste it left in their mouths.

I also believe that the unions have negotiated themselves out of many jobs and out of competitive positions in the market today. While they were doing that, corporate white collar members rewarded themselves lavishly for mediocre to pathetic performances year in and year out.

Where is the blame? Everywhere.You can also throw a heap of blame on our pathetic trade policies that treat foreign goods favorably while our goods are tarrif and tax burdened to death overseas.

All of the parties need to take a step back, a deep breath and then join forces to evaluate everything they do so we may once again rule the roost.

I close in saying I buy American products exclusively, as the job I save may one day be my own or that of friends or family. I run a 32 vehicle fleet comprised solely of the General's cars and trucks, and have a 98 GMC Z-71, a 94 Buick wagon and a 1937 Pontiac touring sedan in my driveway. My brother, who works for a huge defense contractor, drives a Toyota and an Audi. I wonder how many autoworkers drive a foreign car?

The ultimate insult? A Toyota Camry with Pearl Harbor Survivor Maine plates on it in front of me on the way to work today.

God Bless the USA!


Posted By: M. Wampler, 2/7

One aspect of U.S. automakers which I believe is a major detractor from the lean initiative is the number of models produced and the infrastructure required to sustain them. General Motors in particular is offering the same basic car in 5-6 different models. Historically, the separation between Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, and Pontiac was more clear cut. Most of these models were operated more as a stand-alone manufacturer 40 – 50 years ago. Now, many times the same vehicle is produced under several different names with only minor cosmetic changes. Even the new Hummer is little more than a GMC with a body modification. I believe Detroit needs to apply the concept of lean to the infrastructure and personnel required to sustain these many models. This may not be the answer to increased market share, but I believe it could make a big difference in overall profitability.


Posted By: R. Cooley, 2/7

There is in inherent belief that petrochemical support is the only means to profit. Well if we all felt that the only way to keep alive and profitable is "We've always done it that way" these United States would have long since gone the way of the dinasaur. Some of the leaders in Japan believed the only to defeat the American military were to strike and take Pearl Harbor and San Francisco and the west coast in one massive movement. It almost worked save the voices of a few who said we've always we must wait for another opportunity. I think there are those in the US auto industry that are aware of the alternatives and wish to go forward but, it would appear that the leadership is afraid of the Petro-Chem industry. We have the tools; we have the technology let's use them. The auto industry lead us into the age of mass production "Lead Us Again" into the future.


Posted By: Bill Robey, 2/7

In the '70's, I read an article in Popular Mechanics about a diesel/electric hybrid that got 70+mpg and would accelerate like a small block V8. It had a range of 2 hours on battery power alone and could recharge from any standard 120vac recp. A back yard mechanic made it on a '69 Chevell chassis with surplus military equipment. Where did that technology go?


February Quick Poll: Are U.S. automakers "lean"? Vote here, and then feel free to share your comments.

U.S. automakers have been working for over 20 years to eliminate waste from their operations, convert to just-in-time production and delivery, and become lean. While adoption rates vary significantly from facility to facility, many factories have successfully implemented a variety of lean tools, including set-up reduction, standardized work, error-proofing, point-of-use storage, total productive maintenance and value-stream mapping. But these tools are only part of the lean equation. Pace-setting lean organizations are harnessing the minds of their entire workforce to use these tools and more to continually make process improvements and increase customer value. How deeply does this culture of continuous improvement go at the OEMs? How critical is lean to saving Ford and General Motors from another year of lost market share?