The Truth About Cars » Books http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:09:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Books http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Cars I’ve Loved And Hated by Michael Lamm http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cars-ive-loved-and-hated-by-michael-lamm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cars-ive-loved-and-hated-by-michael-lamm/#comments Thu, 19 Dec 2013 10:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683498 Lamm_900-700x311

Micheal Lamm has worn a lot of hats in the automotive media world, including stints as editor and publisher at a number of respected publications (besides siring the man who gave the world the 24 Hrs of LeMons series). In addition to wearing a lot of hats, Mike has also owned a lot of cars including about 80 collectible and special interest automobiles over the past 62 years. Most of them he loved, others he grew to hate.

 

Last year Michael did a 15 part series for Hemmings called Cars I’ve Loved and Hated, which he graciously allowed me to excerpt at my own site. He’s a great writer who accurately conveys what it’s like to be a car enthusiast and I think he’s one of the good guys in the autojourno biz. A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Amazon or directly from Lamm), which Lamm wrote with retired GM designer, the late Dave Holls, is encyclopediac in scope and pretty much the standard reference on the topic.

With just a week to go before Christmas and you have loved ones who love cars, or if you forgot to get your Jewish car enthusiast friends anything for Chanukah, now passed, there’s good news. Lamm decided to publish of Cars I’ve Loved and Hated on CD with the 223 pages of text and 131 photographs laid out in book format by noted automotive artist Casey Shain and though it normally costs $14.95 plus $3 shipping, Mike’s having a holiday sale and if you order it now, you can get it for just $12.95 and he’ll throw in first class postage in the U.S. for free until Christmas day. For more information, visit LammMorada.com or send your check (no credit cards accepted) to Mike at Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 9428 Hickory Ave., Stockton CA 95212. If you ask him, he’ll probably autograph it.

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TTAC Giveaway: Bob Lutz’s New Book http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/ttac-giveaway-bob-lutzs-new-book/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/ttac-giveaway-bob-lutzs-new-book/#comments Wed, 26 Jun 2013 20:38:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493404 81QaMIAhlbL._SL1500_-231x350

Now that I’m done reviewing Bob Lutz’s new book, I’m going to give a copy away, just like we do with all the accumulated swag over at TTAC Towers. There may or may not be some greasy fingerprints sustained during an attempt to read this book while eating a grilled cheese sandwich. But the price is right. If you want it, all you have to do is give me the most compelling reason why you deserve it. Email your answers to editors at ttac dot com. Contest closes one week from today.

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Book Review: Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/book-review-icons-and-idiots-straight-talk-on-leadership/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/book-review-icons-and-idiots-straight-talk-on-leadership/#comments Mon, 17 Jun 2013 16:58:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492456 81QaMIAhlbL._SL1500_

Bob Lutz’s latest tome isn’t so much about cars as it is a business book on leadership that happens to be about cars. Through 11 vignettes, Lutz talks about the leadership figures in his life, their triumphs and foibles and how they impacted his personal and professional development.

Along the way we meet a broad cross section of figures, including Lutz’s high school teacher who eventually became Switzerland’s President, his Marine Drill Sergeant, and the CEO of Exide Batteries, who ended up becoming one of the first white collar criminals of the new millennium.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of auto world figures too, from household names like Harold “Red” Poling (Ford’s former CEO) and Chrysler’s Bob Eaton, to lesser known players like Eberhard von Kuenheim (an orphaned, near-penniless aristocrat who rose to the top of BMW. Lutz credits him with turning BMW from a “tiny, regional auto company into a global luxury-car powerhouse).

All of the characters outlined in the book are three-dimensional, with their own flaws and quirks. Even the most wretched and obnoxious among them are praised by Lutz for their business acumen, their charm or their quantifiable results. By the same token, the affable, kind and caring are panned for their failure to achieve corporate goals or take a stand when it was required.

Poling and von Kuenheim represent the most compelling narratives and the most relevant to the site. A petty, Machiavellian figure, von Kuenheim never failed to take credit for other people’s great ideas and was more than happy to throw his subordinates, Lutz included, under the bus. He was (according to Lutz) unable to tolerate anyone who was capable of outshining the master, a factor which drove Lutz to leave BMW. Nevertheless, Lutz expresses an admiration for the man, as he was able to make BMW what it is today. Without von Kuenheim, the 3, 5 and 7-Series cars, along with their famous naming conventions, would literally not exist.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Ford CEO Harold “Red” Poling who is depicted as an infamous tightwad, a royal pain in the ass and totally myopic in all matters that cannot be quantified. All right brain thinkers will be able to relate to Lutz’s frustration at having to deal with a figure like Poling – those of us who rely on our gut instinct, honed over thousands of years of evolution, know that numbers can in fact be fudged to mis-represent things and the real world turn of events can not always be reflected in an Excel spreadsheet. But try telling that to a boss who believes that “if it can’t be quantified, it doesn’t exist”.

Poling’s obsession with cost-savings, data and procedure ended up creating massive inefficiencies at Ford, with workers resorting to manipulation (scheduling multiple meetings to get projects approved while using absurdly high budget estimates. Poling would demand multiple revisions until there was a mutually agreed upon target – which ended up being what the workers wanted in the first place), deceit and other tactics to get their way. Poling’s instincts for product were awful as well; at one point, he chides Lutz for backing the 1986 Taurus, stating that Ford should have made a K-Car instead. Another hilarious exchange has him chewing out Lutz for reading Auto Motor und Sport at his desk. When Lutz replies that he has to stay on top of the competition, Poling is utterly disdainful

“Nonsense. All people want is a car that starts every morning and gets them to work on time. You don’t need to read car magazines to figure that one out.”

Despite all that, Lutz learns a valuable lesson; you do need to be mercenary about sticking to your budgets and targets, or else projects can balloon in both cost and complexity. The engineers and planners will inevitably find a way to make do with what they are given.

As always, Lutz’s writing is crisp, funny and concise. At the end, there are scorecards for each leader, perhaps a wry concession to those who, like Poling, need quantitative data for just about everything. There is also a treatise about leadership at the end that touches on what Lutz believes is the essence of a good leader; one who is honest, direct, holds his troops to a high standard and has a laser-like focus on their vision and goals.

In that context, the book helped me evaluate my managers, both past and present. It helped me view them in a much more complex manner, rather than just as “good” or “bad”. As someone who not only has to manage a staff of writers, it also informed me of how I can improve my own conduct on the job. Leadership is tough – especially when you have to lead the same people you used to write to, asking if they would publish your early (and unpolished) work. It’s one of those things that can only be honed by experience rather than erudition. But at least Icons and Idiots helped give me the context needed to be a good boss, without having to endure seven decades of bad ones.

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TTAC Book Club – Car: A Drama of the American Workplace http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ttac-book-club-car-a-drama-of-the-american-workplace/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ttac-book-club-car-a-drama-of-the-american-workplace/#comments Fri, 27 Jul 2012 15:26:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454435

Last week, I polled TTAC readers on essential reading related to the car industry. Since most of the books are old, and don’t merit a formal review, I figured that opening the floor to discussion would better serve the readers, and myself, with regards to thinking about the book and the lessons contained within.

The first book up for discussion is “Car: A Drama of the American Workplace”. Mary Walton’s look at the development of the DN101 Taurus was so revealing that it set a precedent for Ford – never again would a journalist be granted such in-depth access. Car is a look at the triumphs and heartbreaks that go into the half-decade it takes to develop a car. How the various facets of the company interact, the clash of ideas that exist between engineering and design, the way that everything most conform to internal budgetary requirements, government mandates and qualitative targets set by the engineers. It’s astonishing that vehicles even get developed, given all the hoops that must be jumped through by all parties involved.

Personally, it left an indellible impression on my notion of a car review; it’s easy to criticize a choice of seat fabric or a funky instrument panel on a test drive. Knowing that millions of dollars, hundreds of hours and endless arguments were waged over that component, by people with much more experience and education than I, makes me feel unworthy at best, incompetent at worst. Automotive journalism is briefly touched on towards the end of the book, as Walton delves into the absurdity of the press trip circuit and how writers are coddled.

Some takeaways

1) A successful new car can be just as much a product of timing and luck as it is effort and engineering. The DN101 was critically praised and designed expressly to beat the Camry, yet it was a sales flop. Given the long lead times for new cars and rapid shifts in market tastes, is there a way for car companies to hedge against this (see: Honda, which offered a decontented Civic, when high-content compact cars suddenly became the new thing in the industry).

2) The level of care and attention paid to the most minute components is humbling. The knobs and buttons on the Taurus’ instrument panel went through focus groups, committees and redesigns all before making it to production. We would laugh at their poor quality now.

3) All the focus groups and research clinics were enthusiastic about the styling of the Taurus; in the end, it proved to be the most controversial aspect with buyers.

Please feel free to bring up other points/criticisms in the discussion. The floor is turned over to you, the readers. I am reading these books as a means of building context. All contributions are welcome.

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QOTD: What Should Be On My Bookshelf? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/qotd-what-should-be-on-my-bookshelf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/qotd-what-should-be-on-my-bookshelf/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2012 15:44:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453245

Having tracked down a copy of Car by Mary Walton, I am now eyeballs deep in the birth and gestation of the DN101 Taurus.

I don’t think I can ever review a car, or write an obnoxious “Brand X Needs To Build Vehicle Y RIGHT NOW” article after reading the unbridled tsuris that results from deciding where to place a rearview mirror. And I really wish I went into some kind of STEM field (who am I kidding, my best math mark ever was a “D”).

Since I’m clearly not a Science or Math kid, all I can do is read. So far I’ve knocked off Arrogance and Accords, and have Car Wars and Where the Suckers Moon in the queue. What else should be added to the pile?

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Book Review: Roadside Relics by Will Shiers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/book-review-roadside-relics-by-will-shiers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/book-review-roadside-relics-by-will-shiers/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2011 18:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420923 It’s that time of year, with the clock ticking on your shopping for Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa and the ease of buying books online makes them such low-hassle gifts. You want to give that special car-freak on your gift list a nice coffee-table book, but everybody’s coffee table seems to be creaking beneath the weight of books full of photos of gleaming classic/exotic cars. Boring! The solution: this book full of photos of abandoned cars!
I admit it, I’m a sucker for beat-to-hell, forgotten cars in desolate landscapes.
Author Shiers drove all over the continental United States and shot cars in junkyards, on farms, near abandoned gas stations, and all manner of picturesque locations. The Upper Midwest and desert Southwest get special attention, but there’s at least one shot from each region of the country.
Each photo has a caption describing the scene in which the car was captured on film, plus a bit of the car’s historical background.
Shiers has the photography skills to make the whole package work; I’ve been through this book more than once (while other review books sit for months in my on-deck stack) and it’s going to live in a high-traffic spot on my office bookshelf.
Technically, this isn’t a true coffee-table book, in that it’s a large paperback, but who cares when you can get it for just $14.99.
I’m going to give this one a four-rod rating (out of a possible five OM617 rods). Murilee says check it out!

Roadside Relics 104-208_ia.indd 9780760339848 Roadside Relics 001-103_ia.indd Roadside Relics 001-103_ia.indd Roadside Relics 001-103_ia.indd Roadside Relics 001-103_ia.indd Roadside Relics 001-103_ia.indd Roadside Relics 001-103_ia.indd Roadside Relics 104-208_ia.indd Roadside Relics 104-208_ia.indd Roadside Relics 104-208_ia.indd Rating-4ConRods-200px Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Racing Dogma: An Interview With Garth Stein, Author Of “The Art Of Racing In The Rain” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/racing-dogma-an-interview-with-garth-stein-author-of-the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/racing-dogma-an-interview-with-garth-stein-author-of-the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain/#comments Tue, 08 Nov 2011 21:22:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=417245

Garth Stein is a better driver than you. Really. In 2003, he won the SCCA Northwest points championship in his Spec Miata before a crash while driving in the rain, no less, ended those Senna dreams. The novel that sprang from those experiences is a lot like his little Miata: a bit cutesy on the outside but equipped with such a perfect balance of heart and engineering that you can’t help but go back for more. Maybe that’s why it’s been on the New York Times best-seller list for over 120 weeks and Patrick Dempsey, more race car driver than actor now, has picked it up for the big screen.

I should mention that the story is written from the perspective of a dog. But, so was White Fang and The Call of the Wild and I dare you to tell the old oyster pirate Jack London he wrote a kids books. Driven by his desire to be more than a dog, Enzo, the puppy protagonist in Racing in the Rain, is the perfect vehicle for Stein to explore racing, philosophy and humanity. Stein explains that Mongolians believe good dogs will be reincarnated as men when they’re ready. Enzo’s owner and semi-professional racing driver, Denny Swift, serves as a model human, whose skill at navigating obstacles on the racetrack translates well into real life where he battles for custody of his daughter, a dying wife and trumped-up rape charges. Denny’s racing mantras, like “the car goes where the eyes go,” and the intense, accurate driving scenes help the reader to learn along with Enzo that lessons learned from racing–courage and balance, for example–are just as applicable to life.

Stein’s writing is fresh, darkly comic and devoid of cynicism. His deep appreciation of cars and racing culture makes this a perfect choice for racing enthusiasts and car guys. More importantly, wives and girlfriends of car guys will gain a deeper understanding of what makes their significant other tick while enjoying a heartstring-tugging, Marley and Me meets Le Mans, high-revving good read.

Garth Stein pitted long enough to chat about the novel:

TTAC: A dog named Enzo?

Stein: I think that car people will get the connection, it may be a bit overdone if I had to explain Enzo Ferrari. When I first started writing the book, Enzo was Juan Pablo, after Juan Pablo Montoya, but clearly Enzo is the better name for a dog.

TTAC: Any stories about racing in the rain?

Stein: Only that I crashed my last race car during a downpour. If you’re in a race in the Northwest, you really need to be comfortable on a wet track, so that title, The Art of Racing in the Rain came from Don Kitch, Jr. who runs a race school out of Seattle.

TTAC: Have you raced at all the tracks mentioned in the book?

Stein: No, in fact, I met one of the owners of Thunderhill at a reading I did in Sacramento and he said, “Boy that was just great, you really know the track well.” I kind of bluffed because I’ve never driven Thunderhill. Basically, I studied some in-car camera footage from a buddy of mine who’s raced there several times and another friend lent me his track notes and I wrote the scene. I’ve always wanted to race there. A dream of mine is to race the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. I kind of had to bluff my way through that, and I guess it worked.

TTAC: What has Enzo learned that readers haven’t yet?

Stein: The whole Enzo philosophy, which is, “that which you manifest is before you,” means we have to take control of our destiny. If we allow other people to dictate where we are, we are no longer in control of what we’re doing. If we maintain control, at least we can pull out of the spins in life.

TTAC: Ayrton Senna plays a large role in Enzo’s spiritual development. Any insight there?

Stein: Senna was a very religious man, but this book was more of a universal spiritualism rather than a specific religion. People ask me if I’ve studied Zen Buddhism, the answer is no. When I was racing, my buddies and I would goof around that we could apply the same rules that we used on the racetrack to life. You know, “Don’t worry about something that’s already happened, you can’t change it. Only worry about the things in front of you that you can change.” If we do that in our daily lives, then we’ll be good fathers, husbands, etc. Really, that’s where Enzo came from.

TTAC: I see “Go Enzo” stickers plastered on race cars now.

Stein: It’s very popular with the racing crowd because I think a lot of club racers feel somewhat misunderstood by their friends and family. You know, “Why would you spend all of this time, energy and money to make this sport?” And I think this gives them a voice. You know, “Here, read this book. You’ll understand why.”

TTAC: How did your wife take it?

Stein: She laughed when she read the book. She said, “Oh, now I understand why you were doing all that racing; you were doing research.” Which is totally not the case. I was doing it for four years and then I wrote the book.

TTAC: You still racing?

Stein: I’m not racing currently, though I certainly enjoy it and hanging out with the racers. Talking shop and stuff like that. I was just at the Grand-Am Awards ceremony last month and I got to present an award to professional racers and team owners. It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, racing’s fun. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of the green flag.

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Book Review: “Car Guys Versus Bean Counters,” Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/book-review-car-guys-versus-bean-counters-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/book-review-car-guys-versus-bean-counters-take-two/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2011 15:54:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413458

Never assume that press accounts of what’s going on inside the auto companies resembles what’s actually going on. For my Ph.D. thesis, I inhabited General Motors’s product development organization much like an anthropologist might inhabit a Third World village. What I observed during my year-and-a-half on the inside bore virtually no resemblance to what I read in the automotive press. Journalists aren’t inside the companies, have contact with select high-level insiders, and tend to print the PR-approved accounts these insiders provide. These accounts reflect how senior executives want outsiders to think the organization operates and performs much more than how it actually does. To the extent journalists know the reality—and few do any digging—they rarely print it. So I’ve refrained from even guessing at what’s been going on inside GM. Instead, I’ve been hoping that some insider would write an insightful account of the eventful past 10 to 15 years. None have, until ex-vice chairman Bob Lutz’s new book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: the Battle for the Soul of American Business. Lutz has a reputation for speaking his mind and straight shooting. What does his book tell us about what really went on inside GM?

Not much. Lutz’s lips might be moving, but he ain’t talking.

Unlike former “car czar” Steven Rattner’s recent tell-all or the “Corvette book” that enraged GM design executives back in the mid-90s, Lutz avoids naming names. Former CEO Rick Wagoner is rarely mentioned, as if Lutz had little direct interaction with him, and always in respectful terms: “Rick was a kind, intelligent CEO of spectacular human qualities.” Consequently, the adversaries in Lutz’s battle against the “bean counters” are faceless and his accounts of what happened are few and lack illuminating detail. We’re treated to a few brief examples of pre-Lutz products that sold poorly, but no detailed accounts of how better new cars were developed under his watch. Clearly corporate norms of what’s permissible to divulge to outsiders had a much higher priority than providing readers with insight into what really went on. As Edward Niedermeyer noted in his review, Lutz ultimately blames outsiders for GM’s fall, and lets his fellow executives off the hook. His book could have been incredible. Instead, for this review I’ve had to work with scraps.

Dealing with “them”

Ron Zarrella, head of GM North America back in the late 1990s, once remarked that he couldn’t do what he knew needed to be done to improve the company and its products because “they” wouldn’t let him. The response of the person in the room who relayed this to me: “I thought you was ‘they.’” The lesson: even those at the top felt powerless to change things because of some faceless “they,” so what hope could those lower down have?
Lutz takes some cheap shots at Zarrella, who as someone long-departed apparently isn’t protected by the executive code, but acknowledges a key failing shared by many intelligent people inside GM: Zarrella gave up. Lutz vaguely describes his own power as limited, but he didn’t give up. Relying on persuasion more than the direct exercise of power and aided by Wagoner’s unflagging support, he was able to make a few significant changes to GM’s way of doing things.

Too many brains, too little focus on what really matters

Lutz repeatedly argues that GM had over-intellectualized and over-complicated the task of developing a new car. The design process began in a room full of disturbingly casual, hirsute, beanbag-ensconced designers charged with envisioning “big ideas” (they failed to come up with anything useful). Marketing and the ad agencies it employed contributed boards that vividly and distinctively characterized the brands and their intended customers (they failed, too). A product planning group full of big brains applied complex analyses to vast amounts of data to deduce segment-busting new products like the Envoy XUV (which then failed to sell). Engineers required that every car meet a vast number of criteria that had accumulated over the decades. In one especially pernicious instance of the “tyranny of process over results,” the Vehicle Line Executives (VLEs) in charge of programs were awarded bonuses based on how well they achieved a large number of subgoals such as piece cost, build combinations, and time-to-market. Lutz recounts how one (unnamed) VLE demanded a bonus because his “scorecard” was all “green,” even though the product had received bad reviews and didn’t sell well. Struck speechless at the time, Lutz observes that “the obstacle has been, as always, pursuing a subgoal that was easy to game instead of putting the real objective above all.”

Design uber alles!

The real objective? Creating cars that sell. For Lutz, there is a simple way to achieve this overarching goal: make the cars look beautiful and expensive. Everything else is secondary, at best.

At the simplest, most superficial level, Lutz repeatedly had to direct designers to add more chrome trim. (Imagine: a world where GM had to be pushed to add more chrome by an exec brought in from outside.) But, as GM learned way back in 1958, chrome can’t fix everything. Even an executive with the so-rare-it’s-practically-raw good taste of Bob Lutz can’t draw a beautiful car on his own. You must free the designers to do what they do best.

To free the designers Lutz:

–eliminated the beanbag room

–eliminated the brand character nonsense

–greatly reduced the role of product planning (a hotbed of over-intellectualization whose focus on numbers squeezed out spontaneous creativity)

–pushed engineers to re-examine each criterion, and consequently discard many that were outmoded or that, due to an overly narrow focus, hurt more than they helped

–handed product responsibility to the VLE, usually short on good taste, and (un)focused on too many other things, only after the design was done

Eliminate handoffs.

Lutz added a handoff to the VLE after the design was complete. But within design he did the opposite, simplifying the design process by eliminating hand-offs from the advanced studios to the brand character studios to the production studios. The often disastrous consequences of these hand-offs in terms of both time-to-market and the appearance of the car came up often in my own research. Eliminating them should have been a no-brainer (and was among my recommendations), but GM was generally oblivious to how people work (or fail to work) together. In this case, and likely others, Lutz brought some much-needed common sense to GM’s top leadership.

We don’t need no education

Note the double negative. Wide, imprecise gaps between body panels endangered Lutz’s drive to make GM’s cars look more attractive and expensive. But this design problem couldn’t be fixed within his design bailiwick. Instead, the gaps were the result of “a generalized tolerance of sloppy [product] execution.” Lacking sufficient power to dictate a fix, Lutz kept bringing the issue up until the annoyed head of the metal fabrication group finally offered, “show me a car that has the fits you like, and we’ll do the same with ours.” Lutz showed this exec a 2002 Hyundai Sonata. The skilled engineers in metal fab then achieved the requested tight, precise gaps with shockingly little effort and expense. Apparently they’d never realized this was desired. Once educated by Lutz, they did much better. Enlightened and encouraged by this victory without losers, Lutz took his show on the road, educating the scattered tribes on how to recognize sloppiness and the need to eliminate it.

Working within the system

Lutz taught me about the danger of a cheap-looking interior. Indirectly, and through a negative example. Among his cars at Chrysler: the original Neon. I advised my sister to check it out. She summarily rejected the car because to her it looked so cheap inside. By the time he returned to GM, Lutz had also learned this lesson. Here as well he couldn’t dictate a fix. But he recognized (as did many of the people I spoke with for my thesis) that cheap interiors often happened because the interior is the last part of a car to get locked in. (There’s less lead time on interior components than on the body and the mechanical bits.) Consequently, any cost overruns over the course of the program had to be counteracted by downgrading the interior. Lutz couldn’t simply eliminate the bean counters’ cost controls. Instead, he intelligently worked within the system by removing interiors from the VLEs’ responsibilities and giving them a separate budget. This way cost overruns in the body, powertrain, or chassis couldn’t result in cheap interiors.

Half-truths without consequences

Lutz notes, without going into any specifics, that the VLEs and product planners didn’t like having their responsibilities reduced. But otherwise he ascribes no negative consequences to his empowerment of design and his war against “the tyranny of process.”

I observed the ridiculed processes inside GM, and can confirm they weren’t working. GM’s executives and managers devoted far too much time and effort to tactics and minutiae and far too little to strategy and the car as a whole. But the things the processes were supposed to do did need doing, and cannot be effectively done entirely by Lutz’s favored creative types. In his earlier book, Guts, Lutz writes eloquently of the need to combine “left-brained” and “right-brained” approaches. The new book does state that, under Lutz’s leadership, the “planning people” and the “idea people” developed mutual respect, where each recognized the value of the other’s work (while still not liking it). But, with no description of how these two groups actually worked together to create better cars, this comes across as the typical PR-approved “one big functional family” effluent. How well are the two approaches actually being combined?

For the beginnings of an answer we must look beyond the book’s unrevealing pages to the products Lutz oversaw. Many of the engineering criteria were unnecessary. But what about engineers’ legitimate priorities? Making the cars more comfortable, functional, or enjoyable to drive doesn’t really come up in the book. In fact, the opposite is the case: Lutz asserts that if a car looks good, buyers (essentially all of them, he’s anti-segmentation) will willingly sacrifice functionality. Creative, cross-functional, both-brained solutions that might make cars both look better and more functional? They don’t seem to have been explored. More broadly, it’s not clear that design and engineering work much better together now than they did earlier. Lutz might have simply shifted the shoe to the other foot. In his approach, there are a small number of top priorities (usually styling) and other things (like curb weight) are allowed to slide. This might explain why GM’s latest cars are hard to see out of, suffer from poor ergonomics, and hug the road with a few hundred extra pounds. While some buyers are won over by the cars’ styling, others are turned off by these shortcomings.

Lutz ad infinitum, by design

So, as vice-chairman in charge of new product development Lutz was able to get some desirable things done. The cars are more attractive inside and out, and drive more smoothly and quietly. But did he fix the core problem? Are GM’s many intelligent, talented people now more able to get done what they think needs to be done to create a better car? (Meaning without working laboriously up the hierarchy to somehow enlist the involvement of a sufficiently powerful senior executive.) Or, do the great majority of designers, engineers, and marketers remain nearly as frustrated now as they were pre-Lutz?
Unfortunately, on this question the book is silent. The role of personal judgment is clear. Design is important, and good design can only be recognized by someone with good judgment, not some left-brained type following a process. More broadly, judgment must fill in the void left by the eliminated processes. People must rely on their judgment, their “gut,” to make many different decisions with an eye to the superficially simple goal of selling more cars.

How many people possess the necessary judgment? Apparently not the VLEs who desperately need it. And if Lutz felt the need to constrain this high-ranking, carefully selected, thoroughly trained bunch within a new set of rules, then what hope is there for people lower in the organization? Though he spent much of his time educating the judgment of the multitudes, Lutz ultimately recognizes only one sufficiently gifted person—Lutz. How, then, can GM survive without him? Though he’s pushing eighty, apparently it can’t. Lutz retired—not for the first time—on May 1, 2010. But, as of last month, he’s back. Again. Still.

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Book Review: Sports Car Racing In Camera, 1950-59 by Paul Parker http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/book-review-sports-car-racing-in-camera-1950-59-by-paul-parker/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/book-review-sports-car-racing-in-camera-1950-59-by-paul-parker/#comments Thu, 10 Feb 2011 15:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=383435
A proper coffee-table car book ought to be heavy on the grainy action photos, light on the words, and include photographs of Škoda 1101 Sports and Renault 4CVs at Le Mans. Sports Car Racing In Camera, 1950-59 qualifies for inclusion in even the most crowded coffee-table real estate.

Normally, I give review copies away after I’m done with them, lest I run out of shelf space for my collection of Nixon biographies and Emile Zola novels, but this one is a keeper. In fact, this shot of Ak Miller from the 1954 Carrera Panamericana is going to be sliced out, framed, and hung on my office wall.

The book is broken down by year, with a chapter for each year of the 1950s and a breakdown of teams, drivers, and results for each year. Unsurprisingly, most of the photographs were shot at European events, though we do get a few from Sebring and other New World events. Here’s Jack Fairman behind the wheel of an XK120 at Dundrod in 1951.

Porfirio Rubirosa digging his car out of a ditch!

Those who enjoy drooling over photos of 1950s Ferraris and Maseratis will find their Italian car-porn needs amply satisfied with this book; there’s even something for the Osca aficionados.

This is a Haynes book, written by a Brit for the British market, which means that some of the photo captions contain near-disturbing levels of attention to detail. You’ll also get some double-take-inducing Anglocryptic turns of phrase, e.g., “…their dominance was interrupted by Jean Behra’s Gordini biffing Tony Rolt’s D Type up the bum at Thillois on lap 21.” Biffing up the bum! No matter— I’ll take this over the “Go Dog Go” style I slog through in some of the drag-racing books I won’t be reviewing.

This fine book earns a Four Rod Rating (out of a possible OM615-grade five). Murilee says check it out!

Sports Car Racing In Camera, 1950-59 by Paul Parker
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Merchants of Speed: The Men Who Built America’s Performance Industry, by Paul D. Smith http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/merchants-of-speed-the-men-who-built-americas-performance-industry-by-paul-d-smith/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/merchants-of-speed-the-men-who-built-americas-performance-industry-by-paul-d-smith/#comments Fri, 24 Dec 2010 23:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=378546
I’ve got this intimidating stack-o-car books to review— it’s been five months since the last one— and so I figured I’d skim them all and pick out a few winners. I cracked this one open, got hooked right away, and read the whole thing while ignoring the rest of the pile.

This 1938 shot of Ed Iskendarian and his Model T (note the valve covers— cast in Iskendarian’s high-school shop class— on the Ford’s Maxi F-heads) pretty much sums up the book; it’s a collection of short, well-illustrated biographies of 26 men who created the aftermarket performance industry during the immediate postwar era.

I’m already obsessed with Southern California memoirs and biographies (Richard Nixon, James Ellroy, Sister Aimee, Mickey Cohen, and Art Pepper, to name a handful; this one just dragged my head back to SoCal), so even without the rat-rodders-wish-they-looked-this-cool vintage car porn I’d be digging this book in a big way. With the notable exception of Harvey Crane (Crane Cams), just about every one of the 26 “merchants of speed” set up shop in the Los Angeles area, epicenter of the post-World-War-II racing and hot-rodding boom.

The stories of Hilborn, Edelbrock, Offenhauser, Weiand, and plenty of other familiar names may be found in this book’s pages. We also get the stories of big-in-their-time outfits such as Chevy six-cylinder kings Wayne Manufacturing. The ups, the downs, the ripoffs (according to Lou Senter of Ansen Automotive, the design of the Ansen Posi-Shift Floor Shifter was lifted by a person “who became quite a famous floorshift manufacturer” due to a legal gray area in a patent description), and the “where are they now” answers will allow the reader to geek out on engineering and hot-rod-golden-age tales to his or her heart’s content.

Speaking of Lou Senter, check out this blown Packard V8-powered monster! Yes, the first car to break 150 MPH in the quarter-mile on gasoline was Packard powered!

I’m giving “>Merchants of Speed a four-rod rating (out of a possible Mercedes-Benz-OM615-inspired five). Murilee says check it out!

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