Am I Going Crazy?
I come from the school that says there is
no such thing as a bad idea.
What makes an idea crazy? Since I tend to have a lot of friends who are “old timers” in this business, I usually hear the term “crazy idea” thrown around in both an endearing and insulting context. Sometimes a veteran talks about bringing young, inexperienced people onto his team to get their “crazy ideas” on the table. In that respect the term is meant as something good because it appreciates the ingenuity of a new thought if not the practicality. Other times the term is taken at face value because nobody sees merit in the concept.
But I come from the school that says there is no such thing as a bad idea. In fact I’m going to climb way out on a limb right now to share a couple of my own “crazy thoughts.” These are things that I’ve talked with industry types about for years and the feedback I’ve gotten on them so far runs 50/50 between “crazy” and “brilliant.”
The first idea is to flat-out copy a car from the past. I don’t mean retro, I mean copy — inside and out. For example, muscle cars are starting to come back, but we still look at the original shapes in awe. So what if DaimlerChrysler, for example, took an old 1970 HemiCuda and scanned it with modern equipment and built an exact copy of outer sheetmetal? Then they took an interior and sent it to a supplier to do the same thing?
First of all they’d save a ton of time and money on styling development and could pass that on to the customer or put it in their pocket. There would be no reviews and expensive tweaking because everybody agreed up front it would be an exact copy. That’s never happened before.
Then if DCX dropped in its new Hemi and engineered the structure with modern techniques for crush, NVH and safety, imagine what a cool car that would be. Better than the original, but equally as sexy. And if DCX had an existing platform that was roughly the right dimensions, it would be easy to upsize or downsize the math data to a platform to save money. Basically it would just be an engineering job of attachment points and structure.
Cost savings drive my second “crazy” idea. Talk to any supplier and they will tell you that OEMs never shop for parts they have “on the shelf.” There is almost always one performance parameter that they specify that forces a supplier to reinvent a component. But what if that didn’t happen? What if the stated objective on every possible component on the vehicle was to use off-the-shelf technology that is tooled up and proven for durability? And what if the suppliers had veto power to appeal a specification decision if they thought they could prove that an existing component would work just fine?
A lot of OEM pals tell me they already do this to a great extent, but I’ve never heard one supplier source agree with that. In every conversation I’ve had, suppliers tell me they often have a part that satisfies 95 percent of a spec but the OEM won’t budge. Then they have to modify it and go through slow and expensive testing instead of just testing for application.
Suppliers tell me this would save at least 25 percent of the cost of a program, which, if applied to entry level vehicles could make U.S.-built products price competitive with even the Korean cars. Or imagine combining both of my crazy ideas and making a super low-cost, super high-performance muscle car clone.
As I said, I’ve bounced these ideas off quite a few people and while some call it crazy, others give me compelling arguments on how they could implement them if upper management went along. So what do you think? E-mail me and tell me the pros and cons as seen from your specific areas of expertise.
If these ideas are really crazy, I need to exorcise the demons from my head right now, but if they make sense let’s get some new thinking on the table. I’ll publish the results. Gerry Kobe is Executive Director of Automotive Industries. Share your thoughts and comments by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org