Friday, April 13, 2012

Car Guys Versus The Bean Counters

Car Guys vs. Bean Counters:
The battle for the soul of
American Business
by Bob Lutz
Illustrated, 232 pp $26.95
Four scoops of Bosco

Reviewed By Doug Vehle
The Daily Bosco

A rollicking romp through a world of brainwashing and propaganda, where the author proves to his self satisfaction that what he has always believed about what great people those who agree with him are, as well as illustrating the evil of those who don't agree with him. Not that he can offer any proof of Al Gore being "Discredited," or of governmental confessions which come about whenever HE is there to ask questions; he's convinced his ragings against Rush Limbaugh for opposing the government bailout of GM is all it will take to convince us. If he won, I'd say the battle for the soul of American business was lost.

Not to say the book wasn't fun to read. I hope he's telling the truth of the Pontiac Firebird that received a Ferrari V12 just to illustrate how much better a GM sports car could be with such an engine. It's just hard to trust a man after his attack on Doug Korthoff as "An embarrassment to the entire West Coast electric vehicle fan community. . . ." This about a man who regularly appears on top 10 lists of 'Most Influential' or 'Most Popular' in the electric car world. Korthoff dared like a GM product that GM itself didn't like, the notorious Saturn EV1. Korthoff may not be the most congenial, but clearly the author isn't either.

At last I had explained for me the system by which GM had integrated the Japanese method of speeding up the assembly line by degrading quality in manufacturing. (After the Japanese had decided to move away from it.) VLE's, Vehicle Line Executives, were given the power to alter design to make the car cheaper to produce. Meeting demand takes a backseat to meeting deadlines. We all knew something like this went on, here's the chance to see it exactly. Unless of course the author's obsession with his own opinion in fact caused him to distort the process a bit. It's easy to believe someone that hierarchy would complain about the introduction of a needed new product because it's "Out of process." (Quicker than expected.) I just feel uncertain about taking this author's word on it.

Lutz doesn't hide his frustration at the 'Conceptual designers' he says ". . . .Could imagine things, but they couldn't actually draw them." If this was true, this would definitely create a perplexing situation. But he creates so many questions over his viewpoint I find myself doubting statements such as this are really true. Did someone at GM really call Saturn customers "Postmodern?" The only time postmodern came to mind for me in the almost 20 year history of the line was the commercial where the bikers see a gathering of Saturn owners that seemed somewhat reminiscent of a trip to Sturgis, or at least a Grateful Dead concert. Even that is in conflict with what Lutz calls ". . . .The person who (Allegedly) didn't care about character, proportion, or design, but wanted a bland, anonymous appliance." I just remember people I knew who became fiercely loyal to the brand, mainly because it was a new and different way to build a car. The Lexan body that didn't dent was popular with one guy who used to kick his drivers door for you. There certainly weren't enough of them so loyal.

As a person with a Pontiac Solstice SSB racecar in his garage, I was really wanting to learn why GM had promised to make Pontiac their performance niche make then didn't follow through. While my question wasn't answered completely, the suggestion is at least there that, because the efforts to produce Holden (Australian GM division) cars in the U.S. and to mount a joint venture with Subaru were shot down by the American effort to focus on "Features" rather than quality, Pontiac was left without designs in the pipeline.

So there's a lot that's interesting in the book. I wish the author had left out the distracting, often annoying opinionizing. He repeatedly complains that the American media simply had it in for American cars, saying Detroit was "Bad" simply because Detroit WAS Bad, without proof. This is the same attitude he himself projects. His assertions of GM's work with the hydrogen fuel cell is "Undeniably true" doesn't carry any real meaning, yet he complains that it didn't "Resonate" with the public. I don't buy his claim that GM had "Exciting Prototypes," I drove the Chevy Equinox he bragged of, as well as others. NOT exciting. The experts I rode with were knowledgeable, including explaining why GM couldn't really build this car, an electric drive with a built in hydrogen generator instead of batteries, for the public. Most important, the materials needed to seal corrosive hydrogen in a tank are not only expensive, but quite structurally unsound for a large container bearing pressure. You wouldn't get much range, even if there WAS a place to refuel it. So he complains of people seeing it as the "Vaporware" that it has been. Although I agree with him that it must have helped in the development of the Chevrolet Volt, much the same sort of powerplant except running on gasoline.

So if you consider yourself a 'Car Guy,' I definitely can say you might enjoy reading the book while wearing some old clothes or coveralls to be stained by some of what drips off the page. My copy will soon appear on the shelves of the Fullerton Library, as most books where I don't want to keep my copy for reference wind up doing. If you can't wait for that, you can follow the link to Google Books and read it online.

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