8/1/2004 | 2 MINUTE READ

All About Me

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I hadn't gone too far into Evan Boberg's book, Common Sense Not Required: Idiots Designing Cars and Hybrid Vehicles (AuthorHouse, 170 pp), before the words stuck in my head began to sound like Ricky Ricardo: Aye, aye, aye, aye, aye!

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I hadn't gone too far into Evan Boberg's book, Common Sense Not Required: Idiots Designing Cars and Hybrid Vehicles (AuthorHouse, 170 pp), before the words stuck in my head began to sound like Ricky Ricardo: Aye, aye, aye, aye, aye! This is the problem with first-person narratives, the ninth letter of the English alphabet and nominative case form of the first person singular pronoun often is overused. And Boberg, a self-described former "low level" engineer at Chrysler, uses it freely.

He also sets the stage for many examples where his "common sense" was far superior to the more formal training of the "idiots" (his words) in charge. Unfortunately, this leaves the reader with the impression of a disgruntled former Chrysler engineer cleansing his colon via a forum in which his potential critics are silenced. Push farther into the book, however, and Boberg's tone softens, his examples increase, and the people being skewered—he gives them fake italicized names, though not always successfully—are less one-dimensional. By the time he finishes up with a scathing overview of Chrysler's Liberty advanced engineering unit, the PNGV program, and the futility of hybrids (illustrated by a simple comparison of Toyota's conventionally powered Echo and the Prius hybrid), he's hit his stride. His limited insider's view of the proceedings are at times hilarious, but most often frustrating as they describe situations that are silly if not downright stupid. They also have the ring of truth.

My favorite funny anecdote is that of the ex-Lotus engineer turned Chrysler employee who designs a four-wheel independently suspended Jeep Grand Cherokee. Built around a tubular spaceframe, the engine sits between the driver and front seat passenger (for optimal weight distribution), and causes the normally stoic Bernard Robertson— then Chrysler's senior v.p. Engineering Technologies and Regulatory Affairs—to laugh out loud. What this program was designed to do—other than waste time and money—was prevent Boberg's alternative long-travel non-independent suspension design from being considered. (Boberg claims his boss hated him. He uses this as an opportunity to get a promotion and transfer into Liberty. More mayhem ensues.)

Though more than a little rough around the edges, Common Sense Not Required will appeal to anyone who has ever worked at an automaker or other company where the bureaucracy supplants the buyer as the final customer in the minds of middle management. Though frustrating in its lack of introspection, it is worthwhile reading for those in the industry who believe they are the only ones with bosses who are incompetent, don't understand, or lacking the informal authority to make things happen. Boberg's missive will either have them laughing, crying, or reaching for a gun.

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