The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine.
Henry Ford had to fight to build the Model T, even within the company that bore his name. The Russian immigrant engineer who saved the Chevy Corvette bucked the General Motors brass to do it. Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich built the minivan at Chrysler only after the vehicle—and they—had been rejected at Ford.
Those three cars were not just huge commercial successes—each also placed its stamp on American life, much as the iPad has today. Two were utterly practical while the third was ostentatiously stylish, but what they all had in common is this: The people who created them overcame formidable obstacles to put them on the road. Unblinking determination is a common theme in the biggest American business success stories, such as Ray Kroc’s damn the-odds effort to build McDonalds and Steve Jobs’ audacity in reshaping Apple. Luck and timing are involved too, but they aren’t enough. The special sauce (apologies to Kroc) is a strain of determination that blends self-belief with belief in the commercial potential of a product.
Determination and self-belief sometimes goes awry in the auto industry, as in other arenas. Exhibit A is the Chevrolet Corvair, introduced in 1960 with an innovative air-cooled, rear-mounted engine that produced 29 miles a gallon, more than double most cars of its day. Despite the weight concentrated in the car’s rear, Ed Cole, the Corvair’s creator, stoutly rejected putting a weight-stabilizing bar under the car’s front end. The result was a plethora of accidents and a muckraking 1965 book by an unknown lawyer named Ralph Nader: Unsafe at Any Speed. The Corvair scandal prompted a boom in product-liability litigation that continues to this day.
Then there’s John Z. DeLorean, whose 1970s effort to build an “ethical sports car” in Belfast collapsed amid financial overreach. Most guys would have tried to rescue their company with an IPO or junk bonds, but DeLorean tried selling cocaine. Though he was acquitted at trial when a jury judged that the FBI entrapped him, his career and his company were finished.
- Professor Moira Clark is Director of the Henley Centre for Customer Management at Henley Business School. The opinions expressed are her own. Reuters will host a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in.–
“What does a woman want?” was a question that tormented Sigmund Freud despite thirty years of research into the “feminine soul”. He felt he was never able to answer this question, and sadly it would seem that many companies today still haven’t figured it out.
- Professor David Bailey works at Coventry University Business School. The views expressed are his own -
The UK operations of Jaguar Land Rover lost £673.4m last year after a £640 million surplus the year before, it was revealed last week in accounts filed with Companies House. Adding in actuarial and pensions adjustments, “total recognised losses” at JLR topped almost £1.2bn last year. Not that this is much of a surprise of course. This is a “once in a century” downturn as JLR boss David Smith put it, and most car makers have posted record losses – including Toyota, for the time in its history.
- Professor David Bailey works at the Coventry University Business School and has written extensively on globalisation, economic restructuring and industrial policy, with particular reference to the auto industry. The opinions expressed are his own. -
Despite a run down in heavy commercial vehicle production in the UK in recent years, light commercial vehicles are still made in Britain in quite significant numbers.
from The Great Debate:
-- Robert J. Dewar is a former Ford Motor Company general foreman and author of A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction. He currently lives in Cincinnati, OH and runs a successful packaging business with his wife and family. The views expressed are his own. --
The war in the auto plants never ended. It flared up and died down, but it never ceased. Management and labor circle each other like sumo wrestlers searching for an opening. Like any war, it ignores honesty, human dignity and common sense. Like any conflict, it leaves collateral damage.