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Whats with Japan and Sleeping Giants...

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Pearl Harbor remains a useful analogy given Admiral Isokoru Yamamoto's statement on December 7, 1941 - "I fear we have woken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."

Heres an old article, 2001 July...

As I'm sure many readers have already done, I spent a recent evening at the movies watching Pearl Harbor, the latest in a long line of cinematic takes on America's greatest naval disaster. As most of its predecessors have done, the film plays loose with the history surrounding the events leading up to the attack, the attack itself, and the ships, aircraft and vehicles used by both sides.

Among the numerous inaccuracies was the quote from Japanese Admiral Yamamoto (last used in Tora Tora, Tora) that he feared, by attacking the United States, Japan had "awakened a sleeping giant" A profound quote, to be sure, but one that reputable naval historians maintain was never uttered by the famous admiral.

While the quote may be erroneous in the World War II context, I believe it's applicable to the current automotive scene. A sleeping giant has indeed awakened, and its name is General Motors.

Three years ago, my friend Jim Harbour made a prediction. Jim, the founder of industry consultants Harbour and Associates, AI columnist, and veteran manufacturing expert, was watching GM re-engineer its global manufacturing operations. He saw a commitment to lean practices and common processes that he believed were more than just talk. He knew about new vehicles and powertrains in the pipeline that were designed for manufacturability, designed to take advantage of the new lean processes. And he recognized the determination of the people putting it together.

"Watch General Motors," Jim told me assertively. "It's going to blow everybody away when it gets these changes up and running."

I was skeptical. The GM I'd watched for years was a big, plodding oaf that was getting pummeled in nearly every measurable area by lean, agile, product-focused competitors. Now, however, Jim's bet is looking wiser by the month. In a growing number of critical business metrics, GM is on a seriously competitive roll. Manufacturing productivity and truck sales are up. The recently published 2001 Harbour Report for North America shows the formerly sleeping giant leading the industry in its rate of overall productivity improvement (a gain of nearly 8.5 percent over 1999). GM'S assembly productivity was up 9.4 percent. Engine making saw a 5.2 percent improvement. Stamping is up 10 percent.

Observes Ron Harbour, "GM made the biggest jump of the U.S. Big 3 and now there is only one hour-per-vehicle difference between Ford and GM. GM is closing the gap dramatically and making it a real dogfight with Ford."

The giant has also awakened in the highly-profitable truck arena, due to excellent products in the T800 full-size family and the new T360 compact SUVs. I rate the latter, with their dynamite Vortec I-6 drive-lines, superior overall to the '02 Explorer. Great product drives sales, and GM's light truck sales volume hit record levels in May. They're now matching truck-sales-juggernaut Ford, a feat that few would have predicted in the recent past.

With its arch rival mired in a nowin war with Firestone and still reeling from recent product quality issues, GM President and CEO Rick Wagoner and his team are turning up the wick. They should be -- GM's North American market share hovers around 28 percent, and Ford, despite its problems, still threatens to capture the World's Biggest Automaker title (if Toyota doesn't get there first). Wagoner knows there is much work to be done in creating great Chevys, Pontiacs, Saturns and Buicks; in restoring Cadillac's stature and revitalizing Opel and Saab; in pushing harder to be first, rather than last, into new market segments; and in translating the immense brainpower of the Tech Center into real-world, affordable features.

Wagoner knows the giant is innovative and clever. He knows it possesses extraordinary design talent. He knows it is capable of building high-quality vehicles people want to buy. It's doing it now, and is now doing it more efficiently each year.

The sleeping giant has awakened. Now let's watch how quickly it moves.

hrmm wanted to take this thread to another level, but...

I really find it strange that all I seem to hear regaurding GM is that its waking up, that the General is finally starting to wake up. GM is learning Product matters. GM is asking for input on what direction their vehicles should take, I.E. front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or all wheel drive. GM has hired Car Zcar, Robert Lutz, a old fighter pilot that has gasoline in his blood. GM is taking the world by storm with some of their new vehicles leaving the competition dumbfounded at time, while recently starting to stump reporters and critics in their bash fest. GM is grabbing headlines everywhere as Bob pushes his designers; also Mark Lanave pushes for innovative incentives to increase the value of GM products. While from the sideline Kirk is complaining like a baby about loosing a half a billion dollars. While GM's global sales hits over 9 million for the first time in 27 years. While Chevrolet, by default as Ford flounders, becomes Americas best selling brand. The General seems to throw more weight around as it gets up onto its knees. GM has been laying down for a long time. Meenwhile as America and Toyota are ready to put GM and Ford on the chopping block, after watching what happened to long time rival Chrysler, GM gets onto their knees and prepares to stand tall again.

I think its about time, Toyota starts worrying about the General... This sleeping Giant isnt going down with a fight.

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To me, that article shows more of a failed promise (or, at the least, one slow in coming) than a waking giant.

Consider, for a moment, that this article was written in July of 2001. GM is still pushing the same mantra of improved quality and desirable cars... Yet, what improvements have we really seen? A couple steps up the quality ratings ladders, perhaps, but nothing yet that would totally blow away the competition. Desirable cars? Didn't we have a poll once with regards to how many desirable cars GM builds? The average response basically consisted of the Corvette, the Cadillac lineup, the Solstice, and a few others... still pretty weak, and out of the price range or impractical for most buyers. And, before anybody murders me for all of this, remember: Perception is everything. It's got to make an impact on the average consumer, not the GM fans.

The lesson here is: The wheels of GM grind slowly. If things keep going the way they are (provided GM doesn't go bankrupt first), there is hope for the future; I could see GM becoming a truly competitive company again sometime around 2010. But don't expect GM to take the automotive world back overnight. It will be a long, painful process, not a sleeping giant suddenly springing to conciousness.

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Of course GM isn't going to go down without a fight. That has never been in dispute. But how have things improved from 2001?

GM's quality has gotten better, but then so has Toyota and HOnda's.

GM has launched an entire battery of new and improved cars: Impala, G6, etc. but then so has Toyota and Honda.

GM has missed the boat on RWD vehicles (Charger, 300, Mustang) AWD (Ford 500), and hybrids. Talk of the Camaro should have happened 3 years ago. The current Impala should be RWD, not the next one!

And let's not even get into the legacy costs and the other elephant in the room: gas prices.

Toyota has been very, very lucky this past 5 years, what with the Iraq war and Karina creating a perfect storm on world markets. I sincerely hope that Lutz and Wagoner have a couple aces up their sleeves, because from where I sit we are still playing catch up.

(modified because I hit some damned key and it was submitted before I was done!!!)

Edited by CARBIZ

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One thing i dont understand, that the government doesnt care about GM... and as I was listening to Mr Ford, I realized that GM & Ford are very historical for USA...

Yet, why is the government willing to claim a certain home on the block as historical and that it must remain in its condition or restored. but when it comes to one of the most iconic american companys they turn their back :angry:

Sure GM isnt going to go down without a fight... and sure Toyota isnt going to make themselves less competative...

But I think with vehicles like the GMT900, with the upcoming Aura, with the sky, with the lucurne, with the enclave... GM will lead the segment again...

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