Monday, November 17, 2008

What Is Wrong With Detroit?

Here is a look at why the Detroit auto industry is going down in flames.

I'm a huge fan of the US auto industry. I'm one of the last people on my street who still buys American cars (Pontiac). But I'm extremely concerned. And given what's been going on, I am surprised at the engineering priorities in Detroit. I had the privilege last week of serving as a judge for the annual Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Innovation competition. Unlike some design competitions, this one is a very big deal, and has been around a long time. Top engineering managers (mostly from the Detroit area) show what they consider to be their most important plastic designs in new production models. Winners are announced at a huge banquet (Nov. 20 this year) and the top brass show up because of the high quality of the SPE competition. It's truly the Oscars for automotive plastics.

I didn't get a sense of the urgency in Detroit as I listened to this year's presentations. It seemed like business as usual.

For starters, there were only two finalists in the environmental category. In contrast, "body interior" had five. Ford has begun an impressive campaign to replace a small percentage (5 to 12) of oil-based polyols in foams with a soy-based alternate. GM is using recycled content in an air inlet panel in the Chevy Trailblazer, diverting 445,000 pounds of plastic from landfills. Is this all the better we can do? What about some efforts to use blends of bioplastics to reduce our carbon footprint? What about game-changing efforts to reduce weight?
Let me see. 445,000 pounds is about 222 tons. That is not a very big deal. And of course that amount assumes a certain sales number for the vehicles the plastic parts will be used in. So given the huge sales drop Detroit is currently experiencing the number is no doubt optimistic.

One thing Detroit is pretty good at developing concept cars. Research vehicles full of innovations. What they are not good at is turning those ideas into products.

There is a lot of "we've always done it this way" in American auto manufacturing. And yet our government wants to dump $25 billion into this failed culture? I think a better idea is to let them fail. The resources could then be redeployed to companies that actually want to produce break through vehicles.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

1 comment:

rumcrook said...

the biggest reason they cannot compete is the same reason socialism doesnt work.

when you have most people in the wagon doing nothing and recieving benefit and only a few people pulling the wagon the wagon gets really heavy and hard to pull.

the auto industry has a huge wagon train of people not pulling thier own wieght.

and they cannot raise the price of the car enough to cover that becuase they japanese and koreans beat them on price allready.

they need to go into bankruptcy they need to get re-organized, they need to be freed from the auto workers unions that have filled up the wagons behind them and ground them to a halt.