While it might seem that the auto industry is going to hell in a handbasket, as the Gershwins put it, “it ain’t necessarily so.” Some companies get it. Some companies are doing well, very well. And for them, it isn’t a matter of farewell, as it is for those who still don’t want to acknowledge the reality of the market. Those who are surviving—and thriving—are those who, in the phrase of John Waraniak, who is now vp of Strategic Business Development at INCAT (www.incat.com), are dealing with “the New Automotive Normal.” And that normalcy is not the one that’s been the case for the past few decades; it isn’t the reality that too many executives continue to pretend isn’t there.
Some people—including those who work in purchasing departments at major companies in and around Detroit—would seemingly have you believe that if you’re a supplier, you’d better brush up on your Chinese or Hindi because that’s where the products are going to have to be made. To which I say a word that I’d get in trouble for using, but know that it has something to do with the genus Bos. Sure, those who think that they’re going to be able to succeed by making massive numbers of undifferentiated whatevers are going to find themselves in the aforementioned handbasket. But those who understand that the New Normal has a whole lot to do with distinction and differentiation are going to be among the prosperous. Consider what has been the case of late for those companies that are counseling the offshore approach: They’re the ones who build a whole lot of products and then make their marketing teams spend countless hours figuring out clever ways to financially entice buyers through deals, incentives, and discounts. Meanwhile there are companies that forthrightly produce cars and trucks that are distinctive in some discernable ways that are able, for the most part, to sell them comparatively straight up. They have quality that’s different, or features that stand out, or they provide designs that are desirable or...There’s no need to name names, because everyone knows who these companies are. They are the ones that have taken great pains to invest in their products, processes, and people. They are the ones who realize that there’s something to be said for genuine authenticity that can’t be said about spin.
Another idea from Waraniak that ought to be pondered long and hard by people who probably won’t lift their heads above the tops of their desks lest someone see them and provide them with a cardboard box and a boot out the door: “Reorganizing and restructuring do not guarantee rethinking.” Too many people seem to imagine that if only they move around and get rid of people that they’ll be more competitive. They, the ones who are doing the reorganizing and restructurings, are the Them that are undoubtedly responsible for the way things are, and chances are, they aren’t very good. So where does that get Them? Closer to the handbasket.
Change isn’t easy. No one wants to change, not even those of us who are all too willing to tell someone else to change. But until the universe falls into some sort of gravy-like entropic heat death, things outside of our control will continue to change, so there isn’t a whole lot of choice—assuming we want to avoid eternal broasting. Rather than just pointing fingers, we’re going to try to help. On June 15 we’re holding a half-day seminar for suppliers at Automation Alley, “Supplier Survival Strategies”, with a series of presentations slated that can help those who are willing to listen—then act. Speaking of acting: If you want to go, act fast and sign up because attendance is limited to 100 people.