Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another take on "Why can't America build a great car?"

On August 26th, George F. Colony, founder and CEO of Forrester Research group, asked this title question to a lively audience in his Counterintuitive Blog.

Though I recommend taking the time to read the entire post, for those of you that would rather not surf, here is the basic message distilled in this quote:

Why can't American companies build a great car? They are designing and manufacturing day in and day out, so what is preventing them from making something great?

I've heard many theories. From a high-level U.S. auto executive: "It's the unions." From a manufacturing consultant: "It's the short-sighted management in the car companies -- they refuse to see the future." From an investor: "U.S. car companies are run by accountants and other assorted bean counters -- they don't love or know cars." Here's my thesis -- America has had too few car makers over the last 70 years. Alfred Sloan did a great disservice to the country when he rolled up Buick, Pontiac, et.al., eliminating vital competition and distributed ideas. The Big Three, all based in Detroit, engaged in massive group think for so long, they lost their creativity, their difference, and their innovation. Thinking of Sloan reminds me of a favorite quote: "The biggest enemy of capitalism is a successful capitalist."

Not only was the subject of Colony's Blog, right up our alley at LM, but also the responses to the blog itself and the depth of thought on this issue has been indicative of the fever there is amongst many people to have a change. Perhaps almost just as incredible is the hard charging sentiment that believes that change has already come - a sentiment that continues to look to current OEM models and methods and to believe that their resulting products are new enough to satisfy the winds of change. Who are we to believe?

I could not recommend highly enough that you read the blog and the comments. For example, in the responses a man named Robert Ballentyne specifically writes and asks "how many other niches are not being served?" He agrees with Colony as he lives in the Pacific Northwest and pines for the fact that no one has ever made a vehicle to serve his type of market. We are on the cusp of serving just that type of market and interest with Local Motors new method of design, selection, assembly, and sales.

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