Adventures in Missing the Point

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve never really been a big fan of General Motors. Their designs are less than inspired, their electronics implementation has always been below even what I consider to be worthy of a first year electrical engineering student and their management was worse than just about any I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, if you average $500+ more per car in overhead management costs than your competitors, then you have issues. If your biggest local competitors have 4 to 1 and 2 to 1 retiree to current employee ratio, but you have 10 to 1… well, you’ve been missing the entire point of how to run a business for quite some time.

Its not that GM’s actual bread and butter, their engines and drive trains, are bad. Far from it, they’re really quite good. Some of the best around, at least until the Japanese showed up and ate everyone else’s lunch. Yet, it seems that of the Detroit-based automakers, they’re always the one that is just getting by on a loyal, if deluded, fan base.

So, when all three major American motors corporations find themselves in trouble, being out developed and out marketed by their competitors, what does GM do? One would hope they innovate in areas that matter to consumers, namely fuel efficiency and alternative energy sources. But no, that isn’t the path GM selects.

Instead, they do this. Its not that I don’t like the idea. I mean, I drive over 100 miles every day, back and forth to work. I am all about using that time to catch up on my sleep. If I could get up in the morning, get ready for work and then spend another hour sleeping, you better believe I would sign up in a heart beat. On the way home, I could answer the email that I couldn’t get to during the day due to all those meetings I have to attend. I would love for this to be a reality.

There’s just one problem… it won’t work. My car is 12 years old. Ok, my daily driver anyway. My weekend fun car is 43 years old. Now, if every other car on the road has this automated driver system except for the one I’m driving, those other systems will utterly fail the moment I do something human. If I check email on my phone, eat a cheeseburger or change the radio station, you’ll see a pile-up of cars to make a junk yard weep.

Yes, I know, there will always be people like me who keep really old, outdated death-trap excuses for vehicles in their garage. We can’t just build cars as we always have to keep ourselves from being slammed into by mammoth, near extinct, SUVs of the early 2000s. But what could GM do that would really wow me?

I’ve already mentioned option #1… fuel efficiency. There is zero, I repeat zero, reason that we don’t have most vehicles at higher fuel economy standards. We’ve only have very modest increases in recent decades because the American consumer has been convinced, by marketers, that they need cars and trucks with 14,000 gadgets and gizmos more than they need vehicles that can go for two weeks without even topping off the tank. If all the research money that has been applied to entertaining gadgetry in the vehicle had been instead invested into making cars do a better job at what they do, we wouldn’t have demand that is at catastrophic levels and prices that are stratospheric.

Its all just one major adventure in missing the point. GM isn’t the only one, Ford and Dodge are just as bad, with the rest of the automakers running close behind. Even the best of them really hasn’t been all that great at realizing that the future isn’t really in gadgetry, because the real reason we drive is to be somewhere other than where we are. Yes, toys make that journey much more enjoyable, but if the toys did not exist, we would still grab our keys, open the door and place ourselves behind the wheel just to find out what is on the other side of the country.