Doubtless somewhat shocked and surprised about GM Chairman/CEO/Non-Car-Guy Ed Whitacre’s decision to take over product planning responsibilities, Automotive News [sub] did some digging into the decision, and offers a full report. According to AN’s GM sources, the decision comes down to one fundamental goal: holding lower-tier executives accountable for decision making. By reducing executive reviews of forthcoming vehicles by one third, or about four times per development cycle, lower-level executives and engineers will have more freedom to make decisions, and will spend more time developing and less time preparing data for executive reviews. And lest you think this decision doesn’t merit your attention, consider this: though GM’s bureaucracy had created incredibly long lead times, most automakers hold about ten executive reviews per new product. By cutting to four, GM is taking something of a step into the unknown.
As the search for clues to what went wrong with Toyota’s much-vaunted quality rolls on, Automotive News [sub] has discovered that Toyota discontinued top-level quality-focused meetings shortly after Akio Toyoda took over early last year. The “Customer First” quality meetings were instituted under Toyoda’s predecessor Katsuake Watanabe as a response to Toyota’s 2005 recalls. A Toyota executive involved with quality decisions at the time tells AN [sub] that the Watanabe-headed committee simply disappeared over time:
We saw that the whole company and each division understood what they need to do in terms of Customer First operation. It became a daily activity rather than a special activity. So they didn’t need an executive to instruct them. Because Customer First is something like a philosophy, Customer First activities themselves are continuing. But we don’t have an official organization like a committee.
Ironically, Toyoda used the term “Customer First” repeatedly in his comments to the Japanese press last week. How he squares that emphasis with the decision to cut an executive-level committee named for that phrase remains very much to be seen. Meanwhile, his motivations for cutting the program couldn’t be more obvious, as the slow-and-safe approach added months to vehicle development time.