National Geographic : 1983 Jul
"Here the emphasis is on showing a profit in the quarterly report to stockholders. If they fall behind, how do they try to improve their balance sheets? They raise prices, reduce re search and maintenance, and close plants what a good way to go out of business!" \FTER I VISITED auto plants both \ in Japan and Europe, my first im pressions of those in Detroit were not encouraging. At an engine plant I saw a worker saunter toward his sta tion at the end of a conveyor, where the first of several backed-up engine blocks had al ready fallen several feet to the concrete floor. Never quickening his pace, he picked up the block and sent it on down the line. In another plant I asked a production en gineer if they used any statistical controls to assure quality. "You mean the Deming method?" he said. "We used that more than 20 years ago, but we stopped. Why? People would buy the cars anyway." "The accountants took over the business and told the real car people to keep their costs down," said a white-maned patriarch and second-generation automaker. Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, son of former Gener al Motors president William Knudsen, had been vice president of General Motors, pres ident of Ford, and chairman of White Mo tors until his semiretirement in 1980. "Cost considerations kept styles medio cre, and they concentrated on mileage and forgot about the guy who wants to pull a boat or have some performance," he said. A car fancier and still a car tinkerer, his genial face tightened and his eyes flashed an ger: "They say the American love affair with the automobile is over. Hell, they didn't give us anything to love!" The flame still flickers. Auto buffs still clog auto shows and parade their wares on The auto as art reaches glitteringheights in Robert Magana's 1950 Buick, which sports mohair upholstery and brassspoke wheels. With 15 coats of new paint accented by gold-leafpin stripes, it was judged the best paintjob on a fifties carat the Five Star ProductionsAuto Show in SanJose, California. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!