Recipe For Trouble

Feb. 8, 2007
One of the nice parts of my job is the opportunity to see some of the latest technology as soon as it becomes public.

Leland Teschler, Editor

Now I can share those experiences via video at, a new site from MACHINE DESIGN and its sister engineering magazines. We filmed some of our first Engineering TV episodes at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where we were able to get a few minutes with engineers and designers from some of the automakers.

These chats can be a little unsatisfying because automakers strictly limit what their people can say about new models or concepts. But we still learned a few interesting facts about such developments as GM's E-flex architecture and mouthwatering cars like the new Dodge Viper SRT.

These Engineering TV segments also let us highlight positive results from U.S. automakers, a relief after all the negative publicity surrounding their financial problems. Unfortunately there were plenty of interesting developments by foreign automakers at the show, enough to discourage those of us who would like to see a stronger U.S. auto industry.

And there was evidence that U.S. automakers are having trouble coming up with ways to compete. For example, many of the media in attendance couldn't figure out the message behind Daimler-Chrysler's introduction of its new minivans. The lead-in to the minivan debut featured old footage about the making of Wonder Bread. Was DaimlerChrysler trying to say that its minivans were as plain as white bread? Well, no. After a silly skit with a Food Channel chef and a speech by a Chrysler exec, the message turned out to be, "recipe for success." The presentation left many automotive journalists in attendance scratching their heads.

"It's as though a handful of people just threw together a guiding concept without much forward thinking, then an army of people spent a lot of time working out the details," observed one veteran auto writer. That comment could well apply to many of the decisions that got U.S. automakers into the straits they find themselves in today. And it may bear on why there seems to be a disconnect between how the Big Three think their products will be perceived and how the general public views them.

To see what a little forward thinking can do, travel across the country to San Francisco, where the MacWorld Expo was underway at roughly the same time as the Detroit show. There Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, an all-in-one iPod, cell phone, and Web browser. The unveiling consisted of little more than Jobs on an empty stage demonstrating features. But after the announcement, Apple shares popped 8.31%. The day after the Chrysler minivan announcement, DaimlerChrysler shares slumped 0.36%.

Automakers might also note that Jobs' introduction of the iPhone made no mention of white bread.


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