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An Open Letter to the Leaders of Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors

Published: Monday, March 31, 2008 - 22:00

America needs you to get your act together. This isn’t just about jobs, although many people are getting hurt because of your mismanagement of three of the most important name brands in America. You’re a symbol of what used to be the strength of America, and you have lost your way. Two of you have new management, so you have a good opportunity to right the ship.

Cutting jobs, slashing, and burning aren’t the answer. These short-term fixes are just that, short term, and won’t fix the problems that you have. Throwing people out of work is easy, but you have fundamental management changes you must make. Try to look back to when you made great cars that people were proud to own. The question isn’t whether you can make a good car; the question is whether you can make one at a cost that allows you to compete with other companies. I have a Mustang and it’s a great car.

Last fall, I ordered a Jeep Commander, and the order process spoke volumes about why you’re in trouble. My order was acknowledged on October 22. The car wasn’t scheduled to be built until November 19. On November 20, I received notification the car had been built—it only took one day to build the car. The car arrived at the dealership on December 3. Now remember, this is a company that is dying from lack of sales, so I don’t think Jeep has a huge backlog. If you did a value-stream map, there were three days of value-added work, (one to build and two to transport), and 27 days of nonvalue-added work.

The dealership experience was no better. It was another week before I was able to pick up my car. When I finally got a time for delivery, a man showed me the car, gave me the keys and told me to have a nice day. I’m still trying to figure out all the buttons. To be fair, I haven’t ordered a vehicle from Toyota or Nissan, but I’d bet the farm the process would be much better.

So where do you go from here? Your suppliers are going out of business because you’re beating them up for cost reductions they just cannot provide. You have armies of quality people whose sole existence is to administer the ridiculous paperwork systems you have created. You need to blow up ISO/TS 16949 and all the other paperwork nightmares and get back to the business of designing and building great cars. You didn’t have these systems when you were great, Toyota doesn’t have them now, and it’s doing pretty good without them. Deploy your resources to really work in partnership with your suppliers. Use lean and Six Sigma to design processes that are robust and cost-effective.

You have many people depending on you. If you fail, a huge hole will be created in the heart of America. As we have seen, once we lose an industry, we never get it back. I guarantee you that the people working in your plants want to succeed; you just need to lead them. Your suppliers want you to succeed, because they can’t make it without you.

To turn things around will take courage, innovation, and a lot of hard work. Are you up to the challenge?

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For 39 years Quality Digest has been the go-to source for all things quality. Our newsletter, Quality Digest, shares expert commentary and relevant industry resources to assist our readers in their quest for continuous improvement. Our website includes every column and article from the newsletter since May 2009 as well as back issues of Quality Digest magazine to August 1995. We are committed to promoting a view wherein quality is not a niche, but an integral part of every phase of manufacturing and services.