(Published in Grail World 7/1998)
"Mercedes Benz" also became a victim of the "global acceleration"
Since the end of the 19th century, German industry has developed an excellent reputation, and “Made in Germany” was and is still a globally respected seal of approval to this day. (See "Made in Germany an obituary")
The structure of the employees in German industry was also something special. German skilled workers and masters are known for their good qualifications; they make a decisive contribution to product quality. Then followed in the hierarchy by engineers with an engineering degree. These had a completed apprenticeship as a practical basis, and due to their studies sufficient theoretical knowledge to form the bridge to the graduate engineers with a university education. As a rule, the engineers had good prospects for advancement. A first-class technical college engineer could overtake many a college engineer on the career ladder.
The engineers who are more theoretically trained at the universities should primarily provide managers and bring in new ideas and trend-setting developments.
This structure, which has proven itself over many decades, had to be changed due to international interdependencies, e.g. because the technical college engineer does not exist in many other industrialized countries. So the engineering schools became technical colleges, which are based on the technical universities and even strive for the right to award doctorates. Today's technical college engineers with the title Dipl.-Ing. (FH) lacked the well-founded craft practice of their predecessors, and the traditional mid-level staff in the technical departments is changing.
At the same time, a flood of technical and organizational changes inundated the factories to an unprecedented extent. Data processing, industrial robots, microelectronics, quality assurance systems have fundamentally changed the face of every development and production department, and principles, procedures and organizational structures with which the industry has lived for a century are considered untenable in the age of "lean management" and "globalization".
These inevitable changes appear to lead to upheavals that were not recognized in good time everywhere and implemented in a targeted manner. The most internationally respected German company made headlines last year with three ugly slumps: Mercedes Benz.
First a new engine was developed ready for production at MB, then stopped because the fuel consumption did not meet the requirements. In engine development, the measurement of specific consumption is one of the primary tests that are carried out with the first available prototypes. These data are usually available long before further investigations - e.g. the durability - have been completed. Why do you only recognize unfavorable consumption behavior shortly before the start of series production?
Then the production of the A-Class, which had already started, had to be stopped in order to convert the vehicles that could otherwise tip over in the so-called “elk test”. This elk test is an "evasive test" and is standardized by the ISO (International Standardization Organization), which has been carried out routinely in automobile and tire factories for many decades. How was it possible that it was only the test results from Swedish specialist journalists that startled the development engineers in Stuttgart?
Finally, the news went through the media that the start of series production of the “Smart” had to be postponed. According to the co-owner of the Smart factory, the Swiss watch manufacturer Hayek, the Smart should also have failed in the moose test, which Mercedes has so far denied. Whatever the cause, the third failure is perfect.
According to estimates by experts, these three flops together cost around a billion DM, not counting the loss of image. In other words, a sum that even one of the largest German companies can no longer dismiss as "pea-nuts".
One asks whether too many new concepts have been implemented far too quickly. Whether older, experienced engineers with sound practice (with whom I worked myself years ago) were sent into pre-retirement to leave the field to younger theorists. They can certainly use their computers very well. But perhaps they occasionally forget that even the most sophisticated modeling and stimulation have their limits. The final answer for the quality of an automobile is still given by road use.
However, the failure with the A-Class has one good thing, which has already enriched round table rounds with a new kind of joke: The electronic stability system (ESP) is being introduced on a broader front much faster than one could ever hope. The competition will (have to) follow suit. So we can look forward to this improvement, which will be just as valuable for road safety as the ABS (anti-lock braking system), which has long since become standard. -
The author taught vehicle dynamics at a university.