First quarter report shows that the sales of the Toyota Motor Corp. have swiftly surpassed that of the General Motors Corp.'s. This is why critics in the industry are expecting GM to double its efforts to hold on to its crown as the world's largest automaker.
The excitement continues and the thrill leaves enthusiasts and critics astonished. Is Toyota about to grab the finest title in the auto industry which was saved by GM in the past three decades? Texan Ross Perot, during his brief stint on GM's board of directors, once described the automaker as "isolated and insulated" from the American driving public. Just about two decades later, amid a massive overhaul at the world's largest automaker, signs are starting to come into view that GM is shedding that impeccable and domineering style of management.
GM is taking a more flowing and unfastened approach to doing business in an industry it once ruled. This is because the company was jolted into action by unpresented sales doldrums and market share declines resulting to overwhelming losses. Experts in the industry are now called on to guide top executives in making critical decisions. GM's pool of designers is now given a wider leeway and freedom to whip up product lines with no advance approval from the top executives. And, in a first for GM, the public could have final say in choosing a new vehicle to be sold worldwide.
"The company that I hired into no longer exists – which is a good thing," said John Manoogian, the design director for Cadillac, who started his GM career 30 years ago in the now-defunct Oldsmobile division. "There's a new sense of where we are and what we have to go to." We have senior managers saying, 'You guys show us what you can do.' "
In the past decades, the supremacy of GM can not be overemphasized. As a fact, its influence all over the global auto industry made it rule the longest. But in the past few years, the supremacy seems to flicker to make its foreign rivals even stronger in its place of dominion. GM's match may have gotten ominous enough to stimulate some actual changes in that way of thinking. Some of this is apparent in the attitude of upper management. With the overhauling of market strategies, everyone is more able to offer suggestions and question company strategy. Same thing with what the Ford Motor Co. is eliciting in the manufacture and assembly of Volvo engine parts.
On another perspective, GM is reaching out more for input, and even putting a decision on generating a concept vehicle up to a vote. "This is a team game, and to get the team functioning at its most efficient level, you have to have all the players playing to their strengths," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said before introducing a set of new concepts for mini-cars.
Finding it hard to choose which of the three models should debut at the New York Auto Show (NYAS), GM decided to show all the cars and then let the public vote on which should see production. "If that means a great idea is born in one spot and develops into reality somewhere else," Lutz said. "So be it." The new set of product lines is set to debut next year at the Detroit Auto Show.
GM's shift is gradually penetrating into the market. Some say it started near a decade ago, when GM adopted a team approach to vehicle development that has people from various departments coming together to make important decisions. The shift was reckoned from the time when managers sent orders down the ranks.
Since Lutz the product czar took on the role in 2001, designers at GM have talked about feeling more valued and empowered. But it has been only recently that the shift in thinking has begun to trickle down into GM's public face – its products, marketing and ads. "There's a lot less Detroit tunnel vision than there used to be at GM," said David Healy, a Burnham Securities auto analyst. "You can see it in the new models that are coming out. And that's what's important."
The ideas for the vehicles, which the automaker would not tackle, were drawn from a small team of designers over at Cadillac. Traditionally, designers get directions to make products based on a market need or hole in GM's lineup. In this case, the team branched out and came up with some clay models of vehicles that thought GM should build.
Soon after the models were made, the designers got word that Lutz and CEO Rick Wagoner were coming down to the Warren design center to take a look at them. "We brought them out on the patio, and they just said, 'Hey, let's do this,'" Manoogian said. "For me that was the epiphany – when the light bulb went on that we were doing things differently."
Mike Jackson, the vice president of advertising and marketing, said that the new culture has infused energy through GM. "We're particularly proud of our new products," he said. "There's a lot of confidence here."