Safford discusses cars, gardens

A trifecta of useful suggestions for the embattled auto industry from the ever-perspicacious Sean Safford:

Push more capabilities into the value chain. For years, the auto industry has been restructuring its relationships with suppliers.  But it still retains ultimate power within the value chain.  This is partly due to how complicated a car is.  Someone needs to take ultimate responsibility to ensure all those thousands of pieces fit together seamlessly.  But the current balance of power within the value chain has strategic drawbacks.  The collapse of one car company would bring down the vast supplier network.  Giving suppliers greater autonomy and design responsibility increases the possibility down the line that a new, viable car company could emerge from the morass that is our current auto industry should any of the current giants go down. Specifically, it would by lower barriers to entry so new entrants (or a supplier itself) could forge relationships with suppliers to produce a new kind of car.  It would also free them up to produce parts for non-American auto manufacturers preserving some part of the value chain in the U.S.

The garden metaphors are a thoughtful and presumably intentional departure from the mechanistic metaphors usually employed in discussions of industry.  Incidentally, Safford has turned his guest stint at into a permanent arrangement, proving that some enterprises continue to evolve and thrive.

3 responses to “Safford discusses cars, gardens

  1. Everything about the assembly of an automobile always derived from negotiations with suppliers who always sought work by offering designers alternatives.

    But, what if, as you were at the grocery checkout, the cashier poured your gallon of milk into several used coffee cups because that is better for the environment, acting on the theory that everyone in the supply chain has a right to negotiate an improvement?

    I was an engineering contractor first in robotics and then metrology at Ford and GM plants. At Honda, I was a technical writer, but before that a production associate feeding parts to the assembly line. Now I am a graduate student in sociology. My experience tells me that anyone who would recommend better ways to manufacture automobiles, should start with Leonard E. Reed’s classic essay, “I, Pencil.”

    • More good metaphors! I have to concede that I am not in the best position to judge how the industry can best build automobiles–other than being an observer and having some interest in the management of large enterprises–but on the face of it there appear to be massive inefficiencies in the system. There seem to my naive eye many opportunities to do different and/or better things.

      Out of curiosity, what leads a car guy into sociology? Are you bridging your work experience with your studies?

  2. Pingback: Week in Public Organizations, 7Jun2009 « PublicOrgTheory

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