By on November 20, 2009

Chevy Traverse: non-GAAP approved, like GM's financial results. (courtesy:carsincontext.us)

Earlier this week Chrysler talked about taking real steps to improve its quality. Today it’s GM. Mark Reuss, GM’s head of engineering, had this to say to the Detroit Free Press:

Reliability has been the Achilles’ heel of GM for my entire career,” he said, promising he would focus the company’s engineers around the world on fixing the problem. “It gets down to an individual engineer’s ability to find a problem and leadership’s ability to fix it,” he said, adding that too many GM engineers have been reluctant to point out problems because they were afraid they’d get the blame rather than praise for catching the mistake before customers suffered.

It’s refreshing to hear Reuss speaking so candidly. But such talk isn’t entirely new. Will the talk translate into action and results this time around? Unlike Chrysler, Reuss didn’t mention any concrete steps being taken to get there other than not firing people who bring up quality problems.

Too many of GM’s recent launches have been rough. I see this in responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. For example, there seem to be some Lambda crossovers that are simply not fixable. On the other hand, the Malibu has been solid from the start.

TrueDelta’s results promptly update four times a year. So when GM does launch a solid product (or not), that information will often appear here first: Car Reliability Survey results

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41 Comments on “GM Engineering Boss: We’ll Be A Quality Leader Too!...”


  • avatar

    Some interesting reactions over at GM Inside News:

    http://www.gminsidenews.com/forums/f12/wsj-gm-engineer-says-quality-remains-achilles-heel-86297/

    • 0 avatar
      Ion

      Doesn’t that fit you’re “everyone wants their car to be good” motto though, It’s seems to me that people’s opinions of whether or not  their car is “junk” will vary regardless of  it’s actual relabilty.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Please, we’re not that stupid! GM pioneered and perfected the twins evils of value engineering, producing a product that prematurely becomes non-functional, and planned obsolescence. They generated billions in early parts and vehicle replacements until consumers finally realized they didn’t have to tolerate shoddy quality and duking it out weekly with the dealer and callous zone reps for warranty work.

    Putting bean counters in charge doomed the domestic automakers. Saving $10 each in a 10-million car year boosts the bottom line $100-million. Every component was engineered until it reached its level of incompetence. Quality, reliability and durability took hit after hit. Nothing was sacred; ancient platforms, obsolete engines and transmissions, inferior suspension and brakes, atrocious paint, marshmallow seat foam, and chintzy plastic knobs and trim. Individual quality reductions though minimal were cumulative. It killed them; door handles breaking in owners’ hands, peeling paint and sagging seats. Customers fled. The smartest guys in the room had saved Detroit bankrupt!

  • avatar
    texlovera

    “It gets down to an individual engineer’s ability to find a problem and leadership’s ability to fix it.”

    And that’s the root of the problem right there: THE ENGINEERS ARE TRAINED TO SOLVE PROBELMS!!!!!!  God help us if they were actually allowed to do so by the “leadership”.

    (apologies for all caps…)

  • avatar
    smileyfred (of GM)

    Not to throw cold water on the fire of negatvity that rules here, but Reuss’ candor is another indication that GM is making changes for the better.  GM’s quality is certainly no disaster by most the objective measures out there…but the inability to solve Consumers Report is a real problem (the context of the Reuss quote in a Dow Jones piece on the same subject).  I say give the guy a chance. 

  • avatar

    They won’t even extend their warranties to match (or exceed) Hyundai. I can’t see that as having faith in your product. Yes it pushes off costs til later, but sometimes, when you are drowning, you don’t worry about those things.
    Despite the joke that the UAW has become, I wonder what would happen if workers were given equity stakes and delayed incentive bonuses based on sales and reliability data.

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    GM’s problem is “last nickle” syndrome, as in, “let’s source this with this slightly cheaper latch and we’ll save a nickel.”  It takes tremendous management discipline to see beyond next year’s margins and look at the totality of the product and it’s long-term quality.  And frankly, in some areas GM does see that judging by the longevity of some of their engines, transmissions, and ancillaries.  Hell, their famous “cracking” turn signal is still working 13 years later on the kids’ hand-me-down GM junker.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    And it took a bankruptcy to get to this sort of honesty? Please. How many years ago did they do the apology ad in newspapers around the country ? 4-5 ? All the while continuing to use junk bushings, ignition switches, intermediate steering shafts, etc etc etc.

    Another decade another promise of improved quality and it never happens.

    FUGM: F-U G.M.

  • avatar
    raast

    Buy it, drive it off the lot, and lose how much right then and there, depreciation wise?
    Quality leader huh?

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    They won’t even extend their warranties to match (or exceed) Hyundai. I can’t see that as having faith in your product. Yes it pushes off costs til later, but sometimes, when you are drowning, you don’t worry about those things.
    Despite the joke that the UAW has become, I wonder what would happen if workers were given equity stakes and delayed incentive bonuses based on sales and reliability data.

    Ah yes, but Hyundai began offering that warranty AFTER they took vehicle quality and reliability (across their entire line) to the next level.  Or two.  GM is making progress in this area.  But the time to begin offering that kind of warranty is probably when the entire vehicle line is current and benefits from the latest designs, technology and assembly discipline.  Then again, my friend’s 2004 Impala has been as reliable as a doorknob and drives shockingly well – almost like a new car – with 110K miles on it. 

    • 0 avatar
      Bunter1

      Hyundia went to the 10 yr/100k warrenty quite awhile ago, their reliability scores have improved dramaticaly in the last 5 years. 

      As to GMs improvements, yes, they probably have improved vs their previous product.  So has everybody else.  They remain, on the average, behind the industry average in both CR and JDP VDS assessments.  Not amazing in TD either.
      In the CR scores they are losing ground, not only to Toy and Honda, but to virtually everyone but Fiatsler.  Ford has opened a gap on them, Hyundia has dropped them like a rock and even VW has pulled ahead.

      Mere “improvement” is not enough, they need to improve vs their competition and they are not siting still.

      Just some thoughts.

      Bunter

    • 0 avatar
      SkiD666

      Not that I agree with JDP’s VDS as an accurate measure, but if you take the 2008 scores for Buick(122), Cadillac(148), GMC(174) and Chevrolet(185) and compute a weighted average based on October sales (6%, 7%, 16%, 71%) you get an average of 177 for GM. Compared to the Industry average of 170, they aren’t really that far off. Definetly not great but maybe not as bad as people perceive and Ford/Hyundai should be a realistic target for the Chevrolet brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Bunter1

      Hi SkiD666- Well, as I said, their average is below average.  I agree that VDS is not the be all and end all…it covers a wide variety of topics of which the “Dependability” in it’s name is only a small portion (I have seen a breakdown from JDP on the survey categories).
      I don’t think we are too far apart here, my point is that when I look at the major assements of “quality” on the market GM still lags behind the industry overall inspite of numerous attempts to correct this.
      Meanwhile several companies that were their peers or inferiors in this area have passed them by and are pulling away.  The other guys are ahead and have momentum, it’s not impossible for GM, but will be very tough.
      Have a great weekend.
      Sincerely,
      Bunter

  • avatar
    dougjp

    It gets tiring doesn’t it, these delusional talking head car Companies.

  • avatar
    dew542512

    This reminds me of the recent Apple commercial where John Hodgman (Bill G) promises the “new” Windows will be better than the last Windows and the commercials proceeds to step back through history where the same statement was made with each new release of Windows going back to Windows first release.  How many times has GM made a similar quality statement over the last 40+ years? I likely dont have sufficient fingers and toes to count on.
    With all due respect to Mr. Reuss while the direction for quality has to start at the top and become a requirement and objective for everyone in the corporation (not just engineers) they really have to mean it and put effort into fixing the problem and not just repeat tired historical rhetoric.
    I think when GM makes a “solid” car its likely due to accident rather than intent and I would still question if it is up to the quality of a Hyundai or Toyota.
     

  • avatar
    bigbadbill

    I hope all the domestic car makers survive and do well simply because I don’t want Americans buying  cars made in foreign countries. It’s that basic for me. But I do have my love-hate relationships….My 1994 Saturn was  a good, reliable car for the money but had a crudely loud 4 cylinder engine and a back seat that felt like you were sitting on rocks. I told them that in a questionaire that Spring Hill sent me but I never received a reply…absolutely nothing…that pissed me off and I never bought another Saturn.  On the other hand, ten years later, I sold the car with about 125K on it and it still looked new.  The young girl who bought it totaled it within a week!  “Que sera, sera”…..

    • 0 avatar
      Via Nocturna

      Not as foreign as you may think…
       
      As for GM and Fiatsler’s “We can change, just give us another shot!” PR, talk is cheap. Provided these companies survive another 5 years, we’ll see if this just so much hot air.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Hope they actually do it this time.  Frankly, it will take 5-6 years of very good results before I even look at their vehicles again.  Ford is getting close as is Hyundia.
    It can be done, but will GM do it.

    Skeptically,

    Bunter

  • avatar
    mikey

    Just so everybody is aware. The operator at the work station does not have a whole lot of input  concerning build quality. You got that akatsuki? I worked over 36 years and never saw a bonus. So lets put that myth to bed.

     Such candor from someone at Mr Reuss level is rare indeed,and IMHO  a step in the right direction.

     BTW  I’m on the road a lot these days. Rusty ,broken down 5 year old Hyundai’s and KIA ‘s are a common  sight here in southern Ontario. But not nearly as common as 15 to 25 year old Sunbirds/Sunfires,Caprices,Lesabre’s and lots of 20 year old pick ups in the rural area’s.

     Right! and that,  boys and girls is why we  call it”perceived quality”

    • 0 avatar
      dew542512

      @ Mikey, just to set the record straight on GM’s “perceived quality” – its not perceived its a real issue , it’s definable and provable and has been that way for a long number of years.
      The issue you quote on seeing the broken down 15- 20 years GM products versus 5 year old Hyundai’s is not a valid measure of quality especially when it comes to rural people. These people know GM doesn’t make a top quality car and they don’t care.  They buy GM as its cheaper than a Japanese vehicle,  the parts are cheap, plentiful and you can always find someone who can fix a GM in the driveway rather than going into a dealership.  Toyota’s are not well known in rural areas, the parts may not be as cheap as GM and you likely cant find someone who knows how to fix them.
      So the issue isn’t quality but ability to keep the vehicle going for years based on cheap labor rates (cant beat free!) and cheap parts prices, plentiful knowledge and people willing to help diagnose and fix the problem in your own driveway.
      Ps. I come from a rural area in Southern Ontario where a lot of the local people know so much about GM products they can (as one recent example) describe the differences between a 64, 65 and 66 Chevy beauty ring with amazing detail. I have no idea what they hell they are talking about.

    • 0 avatar
      dean

      Mikey, go back and re-read akatsuki’s comment.  Try not to see red when he refers to the UAW as a joke and just read the words.

      He did not say you were receiving bonuses.  He’s wondering what would happen if the workers did receive incentive bonuses based on sales and reliability data.
      Your point that the line worker has little to do with quality is well taken.  Certainly in the last 15 years most domestic quality issues are probably management and design related.  But I know a fellow in the automation industry that was in a GM plant in Ontario and saw a line worker sleeping in the back of whatever SUV they were building.  This was maybe 12 years ago.  That guy may have been on a break, or maybe the part he was supposed to be screwing in didn’t get screwed in.

    • 0 avatar
      Giltibo

      GM is well known for having made cars that ran and functioned like crap for a long time… For example I put 272 000km in a 1995 Buick Regal. It was NEVER perfect: atrocious fit and finish, nagging small problems for the duration of the base warranty, then it cost me and GM a bit over 13 000$ in repairs between 60K and 160K. It consumed over its lifetime: 4 Alternators, 3 Heater cores, a Gas Tank (and a set of fuel lines), 2 sets of head gaskets, 2 Rads, 2 Crankshaft Position Sensors, 2 ECUs as well as 2 transmissions. (And I am not hard on my cars!)

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Their quality or lack thereof has little to do with engineers and everything to do with purchasing. GM Purchasing sources (<-verb) cheap parts and then pounds even more cost out of them. Marginally accetpable parts gradually become crap as they are cost-reduced. This was and is how GM tries to compete with non-UAW car companies – and why they are doomed to fail. Again.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Rusty ,broken down 5 year old Hyundai’s and KIA
    Dude, don’t lie.  You’ve seen a 2005 Hyundai “rusted out”?  Come on!
    But, thanks for giving us an insight into just the kind of deluded thinking that bankrupted GM.

  • avatar

    I have a six-year-old Mazda that’s rusting, FWIW.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @jmo….Don ‘t call me a liar sir.  If you live in rust country go have a close look at a 2004 0r 03 Santa Fe or an Accent. Or better yet talk to a guy thats had one since new.

     And while we are on the subject “dude”  Figuring that because it come’s from Japanese enginering or Korean, or God forbid German, that it is some how superior,and is quality built by little elves in the Black Forrest,or dedicated Japanese monks working on the line,is in itself “deluded thinking.
     

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Should I put more faith in your finding or CR’s findings?
       
      I am not questioning your integrity. But your sample size is too small to be relevent.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      The Camries, Accords, Civics and Corollas built in the US are great.  It’s the cars built by the UAW that have historically sucked.

      You really think a Sebring is as good as a Sonata?

    • 0 avatar
      Bunter1

      wsn-yes, anecdotes are seen through the filters of our emotions and precoceptions.
      The recent CR data found that only 21% of GM products were above the industry numerical average for reliability.  The data was provided by GM owners, people who liked GM products enough to buy them.
      For contrast the percentages above average for some others were: Honda 100% (3  or 4 years running), Toyota 93% (ya, they’re sure failing), Hyundia 80% (last 5 years have been a huge improvement), Ford 67% (moving up).
      Chrysler was the only major with a poorer percentage than GM.  I have charted the last 5 years of data and GM’s trendline is down.

      My wife had this quote at her desk “I God we trust, all others bring data”.

      Have a great weekend.

      Bunter

  • avatar
    GarbageMotorsCo.

    I would be very leery of any product coming out of a GM plant since the company anounced it might go bankrupt back in December of 2008.

    Here’s a company on the verge of going out of business, now under the government thumb owing billions of taxpayer dollars and has for decades fought tensions with the UAW (which making reparations with is like pulling teeth) who have a looming threat of their plant being shuttered for good so that Governement Motors can hi-tail their jobs over to foriegn operations.

    Ya, that’s gotta be good for the attitudes of those putting your vehicle together. Think these people actually give a damn about whether the vehicle is quality built or not? They might not have a job to come to the next morning!

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    My cousin, a former auto body man, still talks about the Chevy pickup he worked on that lost a door crossing railroad tracks.  It seems the door hinges were glued on at that time.  He also recalls the mid-1980′s Saabs that he used to get 3 to 4 hundred thousand miles on.  The automatic transmissions were bad, but not so the manuals.  GM ruined the brand when they took over about 1990.

  • avatar
    BuzWeston

    It’s too late. I owned many GM products over the years before waking up to the quality problems. For at least 40 years, GM deliberately sold its customer cheap junk.
    I made a lot of visits to the service department and I paid for a lot of parts that broke because they were poorly made. And millions of others did the same thing.
    I think GM deserves to go the way of AMC and the Hupmobile.

  • avatar
    MLS

    That uneven gap between the Traverse’s IP and door panel trim reminds me of the second generation Acura MDX.  Every last one I’ve been inside has suffered from the same sort of misalignment.  At least Chevy is keeping good company these days, I guess.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Yup, it’s too late to get me back too.

    The picture says it all.  Badly fitting dashboard parts and inconsistent fit, finish, and tolerances.  Even the flagship sportscar, the Corvette, is loaded with these warts.

    On an unrelated matter, I noticed the other day that I’ve been subconsciously driving to avoid GM cars and drivers.

    For example, if I’m approaching a red light and there are two lanes going in my direction, I will almost always choose to line up behind the non-GM car (assuming that “pole position” is not available).  I don’t know why I do that; I haven’t made any type of scientific or non-scientific studies or even casual observations that GM drivers are worse.  Although I’ve seen that almost all Chevvy Tahoe drivers seem to be on the phone lately…maybe they’re talking to each other?  Too bad they don’t know about hands-free. 

    Hey, maybe my avoidance technique is just me subconsciously trying to keep away from the leprous stench of failure?  Of the car company and not the drivers…I hope.  And for the record, I am still alive, so I must be doing the right thing.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @ GarbageMotorCo ….Nice name there, guy. Sure even a dumb old plant rat like myself can figure out where you coming from eh? I left the plant in Dec 08. Yeah things were looking pretty grim at that point. Though I can tell you that quality never suffered at all. I got an Impala that was run in mid Dec ..zero defects it’s never been back to the dealer.

     FYI..  Mr Garbage I know hundreds of people hourly,skilled trade and management,that would strongly disagree with your statement. These folks know only too well,whats at stake here.
    Now… ZoomZoom   You avoid GM vehicles and drivers?…really?  You and I have been around TTAC for a long time. We got opposing views,but mostly I respect your stuff. But dude,…. Tahoe drivers are the only ones talking on the phone?  Wow thats deep.
     

  • avatar
    bigbadbill

    Man!……glued on hinges?…. avoiding  GM drivers?  Wow!… Is the moon full?

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    In about 1980 Wards Auto World did a big write-up on GM buying Honda Accords and dismantling them to learn why people raved about them so much. The idea was to benchmark them and beat whatever they were doing. Pictures showed parts laying all over the shop floor.
     
    Nothing, absolutely nothing came of it. In 30 years they still have not matched Honda.
     
    GM’s strength, with precious little exception, is to design and build the cheapest, unreliable, undependable, poor quality vehicle they can, inflate the sticker, then “discount” the hell out of it with a dozen phony rebates to make it look like it’s a good deal.  Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than a program to return the car if you don’t want it but $500 in your pocket if you take a pass on the program.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J. Stern

      I understand in the early 1970s Honda made a set of cylinder heads to suit the Chevrolet small-block V8, with which the engine easily passed the newly-tightened emission regulations. It also gave much better driveability and made more power on less fuel. GM chose to carry on chortling and dismissing Japanese cars out of one side of their mouths, while throwing enormous money at lobbyists to whine for a rollback in the “impossible” emission standards. Whether this particular story is apocryphal doesn’t really matter, owing to so many damn-near-identical examples of GM’s perpetual collective craniorectal impaction. Ordinarily I’d be tempted to say GM’s left hand doesn’t know what their right hand is doing, but it’s pretty clear what both hands are doing. It’s something that used to involve a locked bathroom door and an adult magazine, more recently involves remembering to clear the browser cache and history afterward, and is not something we talk about in more specific detail in a family publication such as this.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “Although I’ve seen that almost all Chevvy Tahoe drivers seem to be on the phone lately…maybe they’re talking to each other?”

    We’re all calling each other about the guy in the funny looking little Mazda talking to himself. If I could get past the cartoonish styling of a Mazda I might give them a look. No I guess I really couldn’t. To be honest I’d almost forgot that they even sold cars in the US.  

  • avatar
    OldWingGuy

    Years ago I used to do wheel alignments. I lived for Chevy half-ton trucks. The lower ball joints would be worn out, guaranteed. And the flat-rate time was generous. Cha-ching.
    One guy decided to do it himself. Took his truck home, installed brand-new ball joints he bought from the GM dealer down the street. Brought it back for the wheel alignment. They were worn out. I knew he would complain, and rightly so. I went so far as to set up the dial indicator, laid out the service manual, and brought him out to show him.
    He was heading back to the GM sealer, furious.
    Brand new ball joints. Worn out. You had to laugh.


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