Cars vs. Beans


The former General Motors vice chairman dished out some great commentary. Lutz was promoting his new book Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business, and talk quickly turned to his role as it related to product development and high-level decision making at GM. While on the topic of brand management, Lutz revealed a few rather interesting tidbits about his former employer:

  • All Chevrolet vehicles were required to have five-spoke aluminum wheels and a chrome band up front, as part of the Bowtie brand’s overall image.
  • Pontiac was required to utilize “see-through” headrests, despite the fact that they cost more to produce while offering no consumer value.
  • All Buicks required a sweep spear in the exterior design language.
  • Cadillac considered building a 550-horsepower supercharged Escalade.
  • Saturn was working on a seven-passenger Vue.
  • Many of the non-car person GM board members preferred to drive imports.
  • Proportion and shape didn’t matter as long as all the brand-image boxes were checked.

Lutz provides an interesting look at the type of decision making that forced GM into a position of bankruptcy. The automaker was being run solely by folks focused on techniques and ideals that don’t work in the industry. He takes a few shots about MBA culture:

  • More beancounters in product planning than in GM finance – and they unintentionally subverted the car process because of too much abstract analysis – instead of common sense analysis
  • Stupid corp metrics – 40% of products had to be ‘innovative’ — which led to stupid, ridiculous design
  • Financial reporting metrics (esp regional) led to sub-optimal behavior – that were just wooden nickels
  • Lack of thought about real customer value — too busy being driven by things like per unit car cost vs incentive cost – instead of what the real cost was for the customer and for GM
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