NYT: GM Tries Harder

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

You know how terrorism experts talk about increased “internet chatter” as foretelling some kind of attack? On Monday, GM will release its post-C11 financial results which, thanks to dubious accounting, could very well mean nothing. Even so, I’m getting the feeling that there’s some bad news a brewin’, ’cause the MSM is kissing some major GM butt today. First, the Freep shows GM’s Chairman of the Board the love that dare not grant it an interview. Now the Times’ Bill Vlasic, late of the Detroit News, shows up with a piece that supposedly reveals the depth and breadth of GM’s much ballyhooed “cultural change.” Mea culpa comes in the form of “ After bankruptcy, G.M. Struggles to Shed a Legacy of Bureaucracy.” While I’m a firm believer that cultural change starts at the top—such as, I dunno, firing the ancien regime that led to GM’s nationalization—I’m all ears, Bill. Where’s the evidence that la plus ca change, la plus ce n’est pas la même chose?

In the old General Motors, employees were evaluated according to a “performance measurement process” that could fill a three-ring binder.

In Terry Woychowski’s case, for example, his job as director of G.M.’s vehicle engineers was spelled out in exhaustive detail, and evaluated every three months.

But in his new job as vice president — a promotion he was given 20 days after G.M. emerged from bankruptcy — his performance review will be boiled down to a single page, something he had never seen in his 29 years with the company.

Mr. Woychowski said he felt the grip of G.M.’s legendary bureaucracy start to loosen, something he never imagined possible. Now, such reviews are being scaled down and simplified across the company.

“We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday,” he said. “But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.”

So, a shorter evaluation form. Uh-huh. OK. That’s great! So what happens to the new, shorter evaluation forms then? Bill? Hello? Nine paragraphs later . . . we still don’t know.

Replacing a binder full of job expectations with a one-page set of goals is just one sign of the fresh start, said Mr. Woychowski.

And the other sign? The delayed debut of the Chevrolet Cruze, to fix the vehicle’s six-speed gearbox for unspecified problems. Oh wait, that was yesterday’s excuse. (After the original generic excuse about a ensuring a “flawless launch.”) Today we learn that “The delay . . . was needed to improve engine performance and the quietness of the Cruze’s ride — important areas of comparison with the segment-leading Honda Civic.”

Anyway, point taken, although citing a failure to launch as a sign of success is a pretty twisted way of looking at things. And Vlasic might have mentioned that the delay is to a timetable set for Chevy by the . . . the Chairman of the Board. You know, the former telecoms guy. Whitacre.

Bill finishes with an odd anecdote, if ever there was one.

“There has been fear in the organization, and people have been afraid for their jobs,” he said. “But now we need to be open and transparent and trust each other, and be honest about our strengths and weaknesses.”

As he drove north, Mr. Reuss, 45, reflected on his own career at G.M. He started as a student intern in 1983, and worked his way up the engineering ranks. One of his biggest assignments was serving as the executive in charge of one of the most ridiculed cars in G.M. history, the Pontiac Aztek.

The Aztek was half-car, half-van, and universally branded as one of the ugliest vehicles to ever hit the market. Mr. Reuss had little to do with the design, but his job required him to defend it as if it were a thing of beauty.

It was brutal, he said during an interview as he drove, to grit his teeth and pretend that the Aztek was something to be proud of.

“It was something that flame-hardened me personally,” he said. “I’m in the ‘never again’ business. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody.”

And there you have it. In the new GM, everyone tells the truth and does their best because they’re not afraid of losing their job like they used to be–even though the lifer responsible for the Aztek is now in charge of GM’s global engineering. Who knew?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Comments
Join the conversation
3 of 8 comments
  • Asdfghjkl Asdfghjkl on Nov 14, 2009

    This site will always have anti-GM articles no matter what. In their eyes, GM will and can never do right!! I sort of wonder who pays them.

    • Happy_Endings Happy_Endings on Nov 14, 2009

      If you're going to say a company has changed, it's not a good idea to use as the best example of the change as "well, there's new employee evaluation forms". I've worked at my current employer for about 10 years. Every year, there is a new way to evaluate employees.

  • Accs Accs on Nov 30, 2009

    Ummm.. Last time I checked.. there are A DOZEN gutless, horribly styled, obese and style-less vehicles in GM's FLEET NOW! I can begin with GMC and end with the interior.. of one of the best CARS Gm makes.. the Vette. Wish it on no one. It got wished on you, and Im sure a couple thousand other little fruitless bastards over there have the same horrible job. How bout this. How bout ya start designing 3BOX cars people give a shit about, like the SPARK and the EL Camino. And STOP SHOVING obese and gutless CRAP down the throats who HAVE TO BUY DOMESTIC.. like the Lambdas AND the VUE COPIES! How bout ya start designing cars smaller than the Malibu that are actually midsized (for once FUSION is PERFECT!) Theyd lie to their own mother.. and say they were forced to all for a GM paycheck err MY MONEY!!

  • Ajla I've owned one 4.5L (Allante) and one N* (Seville). In Allante tune (200hp/270lb ft) the 4.5L feels decent, but I don't know how it would have held up to the competition. The N* is perfectly lovely until it breaks. GM adding a 5th gear to the 4T80 around 2004 would have been nice though.I'm a little surprised that adding a turbo or supercharger to the 4.5/4.9 wasn't considered when other GM divisions were utilizing forced induction in a largely successful fashion. RR and Bentley were using turbos at this time so it isn't like forced induction was taboo in luxury cars.As I'm sure most of us know, adding DOHC heads to an OHV design is something GM eventually did anyway with the 3.4L and although reasonably powerful it was a bigger maintenance and reliability nightmare even than the eventually N*. I'm also interested if the N* has any development overlap with the Quad4 or if it was totally separate.
  • Bd2 Excellent article as always Corey. Looking forward to this series and your style of verbiage.
  • YellowDuck Really surprised it's only 1/3. Lack of Android Auto would be a dealbreaker for me. At this point I might even say it needs to be wireless. I can't believe any manufacturer would still be trying to sell built in nav as like a $1500 option. Must sell it to people with flip phones.
  • Mike Beranek Great subject for a multi-part piece. There's a lovely DTS for sale near my work... does anyone have a year that the Northstar becomes buyable? I've heard both 2005 and 2007.
  • Parkave231 Looking forward to this deep dive, Corey. My '02 Deville was right on the cusp of when they "fixed" the head bolt issues, but I really don't know if mine was one of the improved ones. Still, it never gave me problems during ownership, aside from the stupid intake plenum duct issue, which was the one time I'll admit I bit off a little more than I could chew.Smooth engine, decent low-end torque for an OHC engine, and whisper quiet. I got great gas mileage out of it too. But how could GM ever screw up head issues on two V8s in a row?
Next