Quality and the Decline of the U.S. Automotive Industry

capriceWhy are Ford, Chrysler and GM in trouble? Can a financial bailout help?
In late 2007, I wrote a 7,000 word article examining the ups and downs of the U.S. auto industry. Using a historical analysis of high-level metrics and examining the evolution of quality perception and quality improvement in the auto industry, I show that a financial crisis could actually be detected a year ago.


Radziwill, N.M. (2008). The Role of Quality in the Decline of the U.S. Automotive Industry. Unpublished manuscript, retrieved on Month DD, YYYY from https://qualityandinnovation.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/radziwill_qualitydeclineusautoind.docDownload the report by clicking on the title; contact me if you would like to run this in your magazine or journal.

In 2007, in response to disappointing market shares over the previous few years, General Motors (GM) launched an ad campaign to convince consumers that the quality of its vehicles was comparable to foreign manufacturers in order to catalyze sales and grow market share. This situation was not unprecedented. In 1982, the National Academies recognized a similar crisis and launched a study to investigate why it occurred. What quality-related root causes have historically led to deteriorating conditions within the U.S. automotive industry? How can auto manufacturers and U.S. policymakers use this information to strengthen this sector of the economy in the future? An analysis of the economic, regulatory, and financial impacts of quality is used to identify the points in time at which quality-related causes led to a downturn in the U.S. automotive industry. The results are used to gauge the managerial implications that could avert such events.

Excerpt from Conclusions
What can manufacturers do to prevent quality-related downturns within an industry? Based on the analysis of this case in automotive manufacturing, there is no substitute, first and foremost, for effective financial management. Ensuring positive cash flows and profitability means that assets will be available for investing in new initiatives that improve quality, or for the marketing efforts that will reveal and promote a quality reputation. According to the ACSI’s most recent ten-year report, U.S. manufacturers continue to compete on price while foreign manufacturers continue to compete on quality. Though some argue that quality is becoming competitively neutral (Harbour, 2006), there are clear lessons from history that this focus erodes market share and challenges productivity over the long term. Although U.S. automakers are now as efficient as any other manufacturers in the world (Warner, 2005), and quality levels are competitive, the financial crisis may be so severe that the industry could require strong federal support, and potentially intervention, to fully recover.

Here are some additional perspectives from other blogs:

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