So it’s midnight on “Monday” where I’m working…
CDR Salamander recommends that I post here about a discussion several folks have been having about the recent details of General Motors’ troubles. There may be something worthwhile to map onto the Navy of today. Phibian provoked some good comment earlier this week with a quote changing “GM” to “Navy” just to see how it fit. It fit rather too well in places. He then asked:
Here is a question; is there a parallel between the path of the USN over the last two decades and that of GM of the last four?
As you probably know, ever since GM was founded, its execs have either been driven by a chauffeur or provided with carefully prepared and maintained examples of the companyâ€™s most expensive vehicles. Of course, there are times when the suits must sign off on the companyâ€™s more prosaic products. Since 1953, this intersection between high flyer and mass market occurred at GMâ€™s Mesa, Arizona, Desert Proving Grounds (DPG). The execs would fly into Phoenixâ€™s Sky Harbor airport, limo out to the DPG and drive the companyâ€™s latest models.
Our agent says that all the vehicles the execs drove were â€śringers.â€ť More specifically, the engineers would tweak the test vehicles to remove any hint of imperfection. â€śThey use a rolling radius machine to choose the best tires, fix the headliner, tighten panel and interior gaps, remove shakes and rattles, repair bodyworkâ€”everything and anything.â€ť
Did the execs know this? â€śNope. And nobody was going to tell them . . . As far as they knew, the cars were exactly as they would be coming off the line. Thatâ€™s why Bob Lutz thinks GMâ€™s products are world-class. The ones heâ€™s driven are.â€ť
I asked Agent X if the GM execs would ever drive the cars again. Did he know if Wagoner or Lutz dropped in at a dealership to test drive a random sample off the lot? He found the idea amusing.
Well, did the DPG at least send a list of changes to the design and production teams? â€śThe tweaks were never reported to anyone,â€ť he says. â€śThat wouldâ€™ve been a sure way to kill your career . . . Weâ€™d see the cars come back to us after production with the exact same problems.â€ť
What things in the Navy today do we do now that go down that path? I have a possible example or two listed in that post.
Also, I argue that if we can use business cases and rules for some things, we can use them for embarrassing things too. I think there would be value in studying the late-80s Navy like that, and CDR Salamander’s drawing upon GM-related examples might serve as a cautionary tale for our Navy.
- March 9 Midrats Episode 218: Abolishing of the USAF, with Robert M. Farley
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- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #48: Models of HMS St. George (1701) and USS Missouri (1944)
- Engineering and the Humanities: The View from Patnaâ€™s Bridge…
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #47: British Dockyard Models