Is this a glimpse of things to come?
Imagine having a press release in the Saab section of GM media that mentions the Saab name not once, not twice, not ten times but an absolutely staggering…….zero times.
It’s all about quality control. Specifically, the improving quality impressions given by the recent JD Power surveys and improving quality procedures at plants like Russelsheim, where Saabs will be built in a few years time.
Between this and Bob’s blog entry (below), I guess I’m feeling a little cynical this morning.
Read on for the full ‘quality’ press release.
GM QUALITY HEADING TOWARD WORLD-CLASS LEVEL
· Studies by independent institutes show clear improvements
· Internal quality indicators confirm progress
· Coherent approach to quality from design to dealers
· Customer Satisfaction Index 2005: Opel Signum best German car
Rüsselsheim/Zürich. General Motors was the top performer in J.D. Power & Associates most recent survey in the USA, with the most winners in terms of quality and dependability – well ahead of the competition. The world’s largest automaker also took the top spot in initial quality, with five winners in 18 vehicle segments. The quality turnaround in Europe is moving forward just as rapidly, as impressive results for General Motors Europe (GME) vehicles, and in particular its core brand Opel, show. Opel has made the greatest improvement among volume automakers in J.D. Power’s “Customer Satisfaction Index” (CSI) survey in Germany since the initial survey in 2002. The Opel Signum was the best German car in the CSI 2005 survey.
Peter G. Dersley, GME Vice President, Quality, also documents the progress in Europe with internal data, as for example the 65 percent reduction in warranty claims from 1999 to 2004. In the same time period, warranty and policy costs decreased by 20 percent. “However, when one considers that we have doubled the warranty period to two years in the meantime, a real improvement of nearly 36 percent results,” says Dersley. This is also due to a heightened awareness regarding absolute non-acceptance of defects, now omnipresent in the entire organization. “And today we are in the position of completely resolving a potential problem an average of four times faster than in the mid-90’s.”
Customer Satisfaction: Most significant improvement
The Opel brand achieved an excellent position in all of the individual categories in
J.D. Power’s 2005 Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) in Germany. With an improvement of 5.1 percentage points, it boasts the largest stride forward among German automakers since the initial survey in 2002. Individual CSI categories surveyed were vehicle quality and reliability, style and layout as well as satisfaction with customer service and running costs. In this Customer Satisfaction Index 2005, the Opel Signum took first place among all models from German manufacturers, and, when taking into account all brands, the Signum came in sixth out of 119 international competitors.
J.D. Power thereby underlines the results of other studies published in the last months. For example, the AutoBild Quality Report 2004 published last November stated, “Opel tops all German and European automakers in terms of quality, reliability and customer satisfaction.” And in the current “Car Check”, an extensive study conducted by the Motorpresse Stuttgart publishing group, among 34 brands Opel improved in terms of frequency of complaints regarding quality of three-year-old cars from position 31 (2000) to position 17 (2003) up to position 10 (2005). A closely watched indicator is also the ADAC Automarkenindex (AutoMarxX), launched in fall 2001, in which Opel has jumped four places to position 8 among 33 brands tested.
Global Quality Initiative
This success in Europe is part of a worldwide quality initiative by General Motors, which has borne remarkable results, including in the USA, since its start in the late 90’s. In the current, highly regarded quality survey from J.D. Power (Initial Quality Study, IQS) there, GM models took first place in five out of 18 vehicle segments in terms of initial quality. These included the Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Maxx, the American sister models of the Opel Vectra and Signum. The brands Buick and Cadillac achieved overall positions of four and five respectively, ahead of 31 other brands in the US market. J.D. Power now also confirms the world’s largest automaker has made significant strides in vehicle dependability: GM had the winner in eight of 19 vehicle segments.
Advancement thanks to uniformly standardized processes
An important aspect of GM’s comprehensive quality philosophy is standardized manufacturing processes in all plants, based on five principles:
· People involvement
· Built-in quality
· Short lead time
· Continuous improvement
Every employee on the production line has the obligation to pull the andon cord if a problem occurs that cannot be resolved within the specified cycle time. Immediate assistance is provided by the team leader. In addition, clearly defined “quality gates” must be successfully passed during production.
International knowledge sharing
Plants share knowledge and information on a regular basis. For example, the Opel plant in Rüsselsheim, Germany, is the pioneer of a standardized water test, which every single vehicle must undergo. After two minutes in a water test, quality inspectors check for leakages with special electronic moisture sensors. This test procedure proved so successful that it is now being shared worldwide. This sharing of knowledge and experience works in both directions. European GM plants adopted a squeak and rattle test from their American counterparts, in which every vehicle must move through a standardized test track during final inspection by specialists to ensure that no bothersome noise goes unnoticed.
Good ideas are implemented in GM production worldwide
But it is not only high-tech facilities that advance quality. Often it is the little things that make a big difference. Every car plant in the world knows the day-to-day problem of workers at the final assembly station accidentally damaging paintwork with their tools. This led workers at Opel’s Rüsselsheim plant in Germany to develop spring-loaded protective sleeves out of plastic, which cover the tip of electric screwdrivers as soon as they are no longer in use. After successful testing, there is a very good chance that this idea will become a worldwide standard within GM.
Rapid problem solving
An important aspect in lasting quality improvement is not just to address the symptoms, but rather to thoroughly analyze and get to the root of the problem. In the European GM plants there is a task force known as “Red X Team”, consisting of around 275 engineers and technicians. This task force continues to make a substantial contribution to speeding up problem solving – now at one-quarter the time as compared to the mid-90’s.
These trouble-shooters work closely with so-called Current Engineering. Vehicle designers and engineers no longer see their job as finished when a new model comes off the production line. For every model line a core team of engineers stays together, who continuously concentrate on further improving “their” baby. In total, there are over 4100 employees in General Motors Europe’s 11 European car plants who specifically work on furthering and securing quality in production.
In light of suppliers’ growing role in the manufacturing of cars, supplier quality is becoming more and more important. “The first requirement for best possible quality in all supplier components is a close relationship between supplier and GM,” says GME Vice President, Quality, Peter Dersley. A well defined process dictates when GM can make final construction changes to a new model and how suppliers – even those only peripherally affected – must be informed of this.
GME also supports suppliers in terms of quality with a team of more than 100 specialist engineers that works solely on preventing or solving possible quality problems of partners at their source. And with notable success: there has been an 80 percent reduction in the percentage of supplier components that failed to meet the quality requirements in the last years.
“Respect good ideas and stable processes – but, particularly in terms of quality, control is always better,” says Rudi Kowallik, Director of Quality at the Rüsselsheim Opel plant. In line with this, GM has European “Quality Calibration Auditors”, who arrive unannounced to look over the shoulders of the quality auditors in each individual plant. Should they identify deficiencies in a car deemed defect free by the internal quality audit, “things get uncomfortable”, says Kowallik.
Perceptual quality must convince
To view quality only in terms of production quality would certainly not be enough.
“It is very clear to us that we can only make significant progress in the various aspects of quality when we also completely satisfy our customers regarding what we call perceptual quality and the entire image of the car,” says Dersley, referring to an additional direction for future quality efforts.
“Customer counsel” already involved in development stage
The goal of making quality something that customers can touch and feel is top priority for a group of 42 specialists who see themselves as customer representatives at the International Technical Development Center (ITDC) in Rüsselsheim. “Their job is not to evaluate a new development mainly in terms of engineering,” says Peter Dersley, “but rather to systematically represent the customer, representing their preferences and needs during the development stage.” The cross-functional team includes market researchers, designers and product developers who have a wide spectrum of expertise and has an internal team of around 800 ‘assistants’.
“We have GM employees at the Rüsselsheim site who act as representative test persons. If, for example, our engineers design a new folding mechanism for rear seats, we quickly get together a group of young mothers. So within a few hours, we know if the mechanism is really as practical as we thought,” says Dersley.
Dealers Confirm Progress in Quality
Dealers are also an indicator for quality and perceptual quality. Opel achieved excellent results in the newest surveys conducted by two of the most renowned research institutes in the automotive industry, yet another confirmation of the positive trend. In the independent, scientifically-based “Dealer Satisfaction Index” conducted by the Automotive Research Center at the University of Bamberg (FAW), initiated in 1995, Opel was a top performer in the category “New Car Quality” with an excellent second place showing among 26 brands, and was the best European automaker. The Institute for Automotive Research at the University of Applied Sciences Nürtingen (IFA), which has monitored dealers’ evaluation of initial quality since 1998, also confirmed Opel as the number one German volume carmaker.
“In our company we do not accept defects”
This is how General Motors gets closer and closer to its goal of achieving industry leadership in quality. Peter Dersley says, “Quality means a lot more than just defect free cars and trucks and we have learned that getting all of our people involved all of the time drives rapid results. Quality is our top priority and our culture has changed to one where we will not accept, build or pass on a defect, no matter what our job in General Motors is. Customers define our quality requirements.”