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 company‚Äôs most expensive vehicles. Of course, there are times when the suits must sign off on the company‚Äôs more prosaic products. Since 1953, this intersection between high flyer and mass market occurred at GM‚Äôs Mesa, Arizona, Desert Proving Grounds (DPG). The execs would fly into Phoenix‚Äôs Sky Harbor airport, limo out to the DPG and drive the company‚Äôs latest models.
Our agent says that all the vehicles the execs drove were ‚Äúringers.‚ÄĚ More specifically, the engineers would tweak the test vehicles to remove any hint of imperfection. ‚ÄúThey use a rolling radius machine to choose the best tires, fix the headliner, tighten panel and interior gaps, remove shakes and rattles, repair bodywork‚ÄĒeverything and anything.‚ÄĚ
Did the execs know this? ‚ÄúNope. And nobody was going to tell them . . . As far as they knew, the cars were exactly as they would be coming off the line. That‚Äôs why Bob Lutz thinks GM‚Äôs products are world-class. The ones he‚Äôs driven are.‚ÄĚ
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? ‚ÄúThe tweaks were never reported to anyone,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThat would‚Äôve been a sure way to kill your career . . . We‚Äôd see the cars come back to us after production with the exact same problems.‚ÄĚ
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.