Don't Plan, Execute!

Columns From: 8/1/2003 Automotive Design & Production, , Contributing Editor


In Chapter 12 of the late Stephen Ambrose’s book The Victors he tells how the Allies had the chance to encircle the German Army and crush it in France before racing across the Rhine River to Berlin. But there was no implementation of General Patton’s boldly audacious strategy. The naysayers said it wouldn’t work, and never tried to make it a success. Instead they prevailed upon Ike to follow the smaller, safer plan they had hatched prior to the battle.

Britain’s General Montgomery argued the safe plan would waste men and materiel. Sure, there was a chance Patton’s Third Army would overrun its supply lines, or its flanks would be exposed, but the alternative—driving through Brittany in order to seize the ports of Brest and St.-Malo—was sheer lunacy as Patton’s drive would eliminate the need to capture them—and win the war much earlier. Plus, he asked, wasn’t that their job, to use the capital placed at their disposal in the most effective, efficient way? In a letter to Eisenhower in 1926 Patton wrote: “Victory in the next war will depend in EXECUTION not PLANS.” But an older, more political Eisenhower jettisoned the knockout punch in favor of a right hook designed to knock the Germans off balance. “But,” says Ambrose succinctly, “the enemy already was staggering. He should have been knocked out.” The lack of flexibility extended the war. It may kill domestic OEMs.

Competing with Asian and European automakers by building American versions of what the opposition already offers is lunacy. I doubt George S. Patton, were he put in charge of an American automaker, would be discussing the need for craftsmanship, attention to detail, or how his hybrid would be as good, or better, than the competition’s. He’d be looking for ways to outflank them. He’d be marshalling his troops to do the impossible; taking the fight to the enemy, probing for weakness in its defenses, and breaking through. Some of his troops would be given the assignment of evaluating new technologies, and looking for better ways of doing things using current methods. From this, the regular army could draw production-ready technologies to help it keep costs low, value high, and them in the thick of the battle.

The Special Forces, on the other hand, wouldn’t be constrained. A multi-front force, it would create both a mid- and long-range execution strategy. There would be multiple entries into each market utilizing different bases and common components in order to improve flexibility. Large cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs would share a single body-on-frame platform with rear- and all-wheel-drive, but be built on the same lines in smaller batches. Unibody vehicles would cover similar segments at different price points, and the smaller sizes. Sharing architectures and major component sets would make each financially viable, as would some minor cross-pollination. Some vehicles would compete with the market leaders, while numerous alternatives attacked nearby demographic pockets, or took breakout positions. Exposure would be minimized, troop strength maximized.

A splinter force would investigate new technologies that radically reduce costs and obsolete current technologies. Promising ideas would be passed to development teams to create a number of on-the-shelf options. This would give future troops the knowledge base essential to execute a strategy instead of an outdated plan. Unfortunately, what passes for execution in this town amounts to checking boxes and creating acronyms for the latest “Master Plan.”