With $17.4-billion from the U.S. Treasury injected into their coffers, executives at GM and Chrysler may think it's time to breathe a sigh of relief, but that's not the case. Instead, this should be used as a time for the companies-and all of Detroit-to rethink everything, and I mean everything. It's not just about shedding brands, cutting models, closing dealers, or delaying new technologies...all of that stuff is, frankly, pretty easy to do in tough times because those are the triggers everyone pulls each and every time the doldrums hit. These times, however, call for more than just relying on old tactics.
A case in point: A friend of mine, who has lived in Detroit almost all of his adult life, made a significant statement about the perception of our automakers shortly after GM and Chrysler got their lifeline from Washington: "The one thing I don't understand about these guys is why it takes so long for them to get a car to market. I mean, where's the Camaro already? When did they show that thing...four years ago? What's taking so long?" I argued it was only three, yet he still said that was way too long. Sadly, he's right.
It's time for everyone with any interest in the U.S. auto industry-which now includes every taxpayer in the land of red, white and blue-to come together to craft new thinking about how the industry is going to not just survive but thrive when things turn around, which they eventually will. It's time for everyone to rethink about why we do things the way we do and shatter those old practices, because many Americans still believe that Detroit is fat and lazy when it comes to keeping up with the ever-changing tastes of American consumers.
Detroit has been mired in doing things the same way each and every time a new product is given the green light for production. Has anyone asked why that is? Yes, there are regulatory requirements, but those have to be met by all automakers, many of whom bring products to market faster than most of Detroit's three. The industry has at its disposal a number of high-tech tools that can help design, engineer and manufacture a product faster, yet we're still stuck in the 36- to 48-month development cycle scenario. What's the problem?
The same can be said of the manufacturing side of the equation. Are we really operating all of the manufacturing plants at peak efficiency? What tools can be used to make them even more efficient? This may mean that a manufacturing plant will require fewer hourly workers to man the lines, but that's the price that must be paid in order for the industry to establish a strong foundation upon which we can rebuild. Sacrifices must be made by everyone.
This is also the ideal time for suppliers and OEMs to build closer relationships to assure their joint viability, because it is impossible for one to survive without the other. Suppliers are leading the way when it comes to innovation and new technology, and the OEMs should use this expertise to their advantage to develop products that leverage these technologies to stand out from the crowd.
Now is the time for everyone in Detroit to realize that while we may be on the brink of disaster, we may also be on the verge of success. We need to start with a clean sheet of paper and throw everything that's been done before out the window. Anything less would be equal to squandering an opportunity to turn these problems into opportunities. Failure to realize this will surely mean the end of this vital industry.