Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

Here Comes the Sun

If you know manufacturing people, you know they believe anything worth doing is worth starting at 6 am.

This led Center for Automotive Research CEO Jay Baron, who chaired today’s manufacturing session, to apologize for the “banker’s hour” start of 8 am.

He acknowledges manufacturing consultant and former Chrysler manufacturing chief Dennis Pawley once complained bitterly about starting the session so “late.”

Pawley continued the ribbing, saying nothing much good comes from anything started at 8 am and suggested future sessions begin at 6 am.

Fun With Photoshop

Being one of the first speakers at the annual briefings here is never easy. But Monday morning, Steve St. Angelo, a senior Toyota North America manufacturing executive, was prepared to wake up sleepy attendees with a bit of humor and some unusual props.

“Back in 1974, after I auditioned for “Welcome Back Kotter” and I was rejected, I decided to get into the auto industry,” St. Angelo says, projecting on screen an employee ID card he says is from his days as a line worker at the former Fisher Body plant in Detroit. The image is of a youthful, shaggy-haired John Travolta lookalike.

St. Angelo has more fun with Photoshop a little later, discussing Toyota’s onsite fitness center at its Georgetown, KY, plant, where he serves as president.

“As you can see by looking at this picture, I frequent the gym on a regular basis,” St. Angelo says of his mug pasted on a well-muscled body.

My JV’s Bigger Than Yours

Honda of America Mfg. and Ohio State University are justifiably proud of their close relationship, and Honda’s Jim Wolever leaves his MBS audience with the idea that it could be the closest such venture in the world as he quotes a friend saying the partnership, “may not be unique, but it is unparalleled.”

Session host Jay Baron says he’ll ask Wolever what that means later. But perhaps Peter Frise, CEO of Auto21 in Canada, can shed some light on the subject. His group encourages university-auto industry research.

Frise notes Chrysler has operated a University of Windsor research facility since 1996, whose $25 million budget is four times that of the Honda/OSU deal, and whose 225,000-sq.-ft. (20,905-sq.-m) facility is more than four times larger than the one in Ohio.

Frise also volunteers to explain the Canadian approach now that the subject has the attendees’ interest.

Whistling While They Work

Some say the sun coming up is not news. But if you’re the sun, you like to know people depend on you.

So it’s no surprise to hear Ford and Chrysler executives expressing strong support for the United Auto Workers union, while a Toyota suit expounds on the company’s non-union workers.

Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler executive vice-president, says the auto maker could not have gone through all of its changes without the UAW, while Bennie Fowler, Ford group vice-president-global quality, says, “We have always been able to operate openly (with the union) about what has to be done to survive in the marketplace.”

Notes Steve St. Angelo, a 30-year General Motors veteran before becoming president of Toyota Motor Mfg. Kentucky in 2005: “If you are a people person, you can get things done” working with the UAW. “But I like how things are in Kentucky. (Workers) seem happy to be engaged.”

Southern Comfort

Wrestling with the right words during a panel discussion Monday, Yuuichi Mabuchi, vice president-Value Network Optimization Inc. at Nissan North America, asks the audience for patience.

“I’m based in Tennessee, so I hope you can understand through my Southern accent,” he quips.

Car Biz a Cereal Affair

Forrest Gump says life is like a box of chocolates, “because you never know what you’re going to get,” while Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler executive vice president-manufacturing, compares the car business to cereal.

“Have you walked down the cereal aisle at the grocery store lately?” he asks, talking about how the U.S. auto market has gone from 181 models in 2000 to 306 today. “There are almost as many cereal boxes out there and (brands) as there are cars.

“If you think of all the types that are out there, you’ve got green cereal or organic anyway. You’ve got regular cereal, sweet cereal, cereal that’s good, that’s bad.”

Automotive is “the same business, the same kind of competition,” he says. “And if you’ve noticed, the boxes are getting smaller and the price is going up, which is sort of an indication of where this (auto industry) is going.”

– compiled by Barbara McClellan