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 companyâs most expensive vehicles. Of course, there are times when the suits must sign off on the companyâs more prosaic products. Since 1953, this intersection between high flyer and mass market occurred at GMâs Mesa, Arizona, Desert Proving Grounds (DPG). The execs would fly into Phoenixâs Sky Harbor airport, limo out to the DPG and drive the companyâs latest models.
Our agent says that all the vehicles the execs drove were âringers.â More specifically, the engineers would tweak the test vehicles to remove any hint of imperfection. âThey use a rolling radius machine to choose the best tires, fix the headliner, tighten panel and interior gaps, remove shakes and rattles, repair bodyworkâeverything and anything.â
Did the execs know this? âNope. And nobody was going to tell them . . . As far as they knew, the cars were exactly as they would be coming off the line. Thatâs why Bob Lutz thinks GMâs products are world-class. The ones heâs driven are.â
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? âThe tweaks were never reported to anyone,â he says. âThat wouldâve been a sure way to kill your career . . . Weâd see the cars come back to us after production with the exact same problems.â
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.
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- Midrats 21 Sept 14 – Episode 246: “When the short snappy war goes long, with Chris Dougherty”
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 2: Are All Nuggets Created Equal?
- Back to Basics: Restoring the United States Merchant Marine
- On Midrats 14 Sep 14: Episode 245: “The Carrier as Capital Ship” with RADM Thomas Moore, USN, PEO CVN