At Some Point in the Not-so-distant Future…

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

At some point in the not-so-distant future, one or all of The Big 2.5 will go bankrupt. It will not be the end of American automaking. The company or companies involved will finally be free to jettison terminally ill brands, abandon onerous union contracts and trim their bloated dealer network. It will be a new dawn for the U.S. car industry. Or not. The same bureaucratic forces responsible for Detroit’s current decline and inevitable fall may continue to cling to power, until, like TWA, even the company name disappears into the mists of time. To avoid that ignominious end, management must use bankruptcy to change the 2.5’s culture. These are the principles they must live by.

The customer owns the company

Obviously, this isn’t an original or particularly insightful thought. But it is true. A car company exists entirely at its customers’ pleasure– so it better make damn sure every single interaction with its owners is entirely pleasurable. To that end, the situation down at the dealership must be sorted out once and for all.

At the moment, car dealers’ profits increase in direct proportion to their ability to screw their customers and bilk the manufacturer. The more a dealer charges a customer for their purchase, financing and service, the more money they make. The more they can extract from the manufacturer, the better their bottom line.

This paradigm must be turned on its head. Dealers should be rewarded in accordance with their [proven] ability to give company owners the best possible deal, finance and service. If healing the wound requires “no haggle” pricing or the elimination of franchised dealerships, so be it.

As an owner, the customer also requires complete transparency and accountability from his or her employees. Anyone who draws a paycheck should be ready, willing and able to provide honest and accurate answers to any customer inquiry about any aspect of the business.

Meanwhile, management should use the new media to supply relevant information about the company and its products to its owners. If a problem arises, it should be reported to the owners immediately, so that corrective action will follow.

The company owns the customer

Customers are a car company’s greatest– some might say only significant– asset. To use the expression of the day, car company employees must “take ownership” of their customers. The words “this is a customer satisfaction issue” must trump any other bureaucratic concern, triggering urgent and unlimited action.

To achieve this goal, management must foster a culture of paranoia. All employees must believe that their customers are about to defect to the competition. All employees must measure their performance against the goal of preventing that unhappy occurrence.

“Lost” customers must be wooed back into the fold at all costs. A defection must be analyzed in a timely fashion and appropriate customer reacquisition initiatives launched. Again, there can be no bureaucratic impediment to this process.

At the same time, the company must actively engage its customers in a never-ending conversation. This dialogue should not be restricted to customer service specialists. Employees throughout the company should be required to engage in frequent and direct customer contact. Information derived from these conversations should be actively disseminated throughout the company.

Consistency is all

A car brand is an automaker's raison d'etre. It's a solemn promise to its customers/company owners. If an automaker commits a brand to “building excitement,” then excitement must be built. Everything a company says, does and thinks must be aimed at fulfilling the brand proposition. Everything.

Viva La Evolution!

To foster complete customer-oriented consistency, no product should ever be considered “finished.” Product improvements must be made constantly and quickly. Design teams and support services must evolve in accordance with this goal.

If an automaker removes a model from production, the company must remain fully committed to owners’ ongoing satisfaction.

Chaos is key

To assure corporate creativity and flexibility, no product, policy or practice should be considered sacrosanct. While maintaining a seamless customer service, management must constantly seek to introduce chaos into the design, engineering, manufacture, sales, marketing and service process.

To foster a culture of constant change, employees must be encouraged to establish a portfolio of skills across a broad range of disciplines– before they settle on a suitable area of responsibility. Term limits should apply to the head of any department.

Product knowledge rules

All employees must become product specialists. Every employee should know everything about the company’s vehicles AND all competitive products. They must drive both the company’s lineup and the competitor’s products for at least seven days.

Yes, all of this is common sense. But as Voltaire said, common sense is not so common. While The Big 2.5’s union straight jacket prevents this kind of cultural shift, bankruptcy removes that particular piece of attire. While the domestics’ current management is antagonistic to large scale change, bankruptcy will remove them from office. And while none of this is happening, it will.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Bob Bob on Feb 27, 2007
    Can you think of any American company - large or small - where an employee would have done something like that? Yes. Even in the auto business. I sold Saturn's in the late 1990's and we did a lot of the corny stuff you see on television. We let people take cars home to show their spouses. We sent people a ton of thank you notes. We bought gifts for buyers out of our own pockets. We were trained in the first week to think outside the box to make customers happy – sometimes at the expense of a sale. We test drove and test shopped the competition. We took full returns because people decided a week after delivery that they wanted cruise control after all. (They still do this.) We knew all of the technical information about the product. We really were no-haggle, so everyone either walked out because they couldn't argue, or left satisfied that they got the best deal possible. I cannot guarantee that all is the same at Saturn, but I can say it wasn't long ago that we really strived for customer satisfaction.
  • Anonymous Anonymous on Feb 28, 2007

    Another example of how bogus the deals are is this famous employee pricing crap. A friend of mine who is an engineer at Ford checked out the best deal he could get through employee pricing, and then went to a dealer (as an ordinary citizen) and swung an even better deal. Your friend , like most tellers of car stories I have heard over the years ia a liar. Dealers hear and see this crap from people that rejoice in the demise of our internal manufacturing capabilities in a truly unfriendly world. with Ford an "A" plan deal is as low as it goes.

  • ToolGuy First picture: I realize that opinions vary on the height of modern trucks, but that entry door on the building is 80 inches tall and hits just below the headlights. Does anyone really believe this is reasonable?Second picture: I do not believe that is a good parking spot to be able to access the bed storage. More specifically, how do you plan to unload topsoil with the truck parked like that? Maybe you kids are taller than me.
  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.