Bob Lutz Talks Panel Gaps and Why Every Detail Matters
How important gaps and flushness in the real world? The body and its apertures are all just as functional with uneven gaps on either side of the hood or deck. In fact, the Detroit Three, until about 15 years ago, routinely delivered cars and trucks with appalling gaps, often as wide as 8mm on one side, 2mm on the other. As long as there was no chipped paint from the door hitting its frame, it was fine.
I once described one American employer's cars as "looking like a squadron of related panels going down the road in loose formation." But again, does it really matter? Customers may not visit showrooms with gap gauges, but they do unconsciously register the harmony and "one-ness" of a car with gaps so narrow that it looks like a seamless shape. It's a visual manifestation of precision, care, and thus, quality.
Volkswagen, in the eighties, was the first Western producer to out-do the Japanese in assembly precision. I asked then-CEO Ferdinand Piëch how they did it: "I got all the production execs in a room and told them they had six weeks to achieve consistent 4mm gaps or they'd all be fired. It was easy!" I humbly suggested this, er, "leadership style" would not be appropriate in the US, and thus, never tried it.
But upon my return to GM In 2001, I found that shaming worked just as well. I had assembled most of the GM products at the proving ground and flanked them with role models from Germany (surprisingly not the best), Japan (better, but second) and Korea (the world's best.) I lead the cluster of proud GM execs from car to car until the enormous, Harley-jacketed Joe Spielman—then president of assembly—literally grabbed me by the collar and said "Enough of this crap! Just show me what you want, and I'll get it for you, guaranteed!" The initial story was that it would take time, and millions for new assembly equipment, which I was ready to approve.
Strangely, within a few months, all GM vehicles were within striking distance of the world's best (and still are today.) And I never saw the request for capital. Years later, I asked Spielman how that had happened. "Well," he explained, "when we discussed it with the lower-level operating supervisors and the skilled-trade hourly folks, they told us they could do it... it's just nobody has ever asked for it before, so they didn't think it mattered."