GRAZ, Austria - To their horror, quality engineers saw the outside mirrors shaking on the Opel/Vauxhall Sintra when the minivan was driven over 120kph in its first tests in Europe.
The Sintra simply hadn't been tested at high enough speeds in North America, where it was developed, said Manfred Wolf, GM's quality guru in Europe.
It was one of the first glitches in global development. Opel halted introduction of the minivan for four months, said Wolf, while the engineers solved 'our complaints on things that were overlooked.'
Sintra sales began in November of 1996, rather than August.
GM gets tough
The delay of the Sintra is an example of how GM Europe has tackled its quality problem since changing its procedures about two years ago.
GM has toughened and improved enough to keep up with its competition, but it still has a long way to go.
'On quality, we were in the middle of the pack,' said Dick Donnelly, chairman of GM Europe. 'We are still in the middle, but we have had fairly dramatic improvements.'
To achieve quality, GM gave power to the quality experts. Wolf said he blocked imports of the Corsa station wagon from Brazil because of 'the number of defects.'
It will take Brazil another six to 12 months to boost its build quality, he said, 'and they will have to use a certain number of parts from Europe rather than their own.'
Wolf, who is also vice president of quality and reliability for GM Europe, was given a new position as board member for quality at Adam Opel AG in Germany.
JD Power helps
With Wolf at the head of a new team of 40 hand-picked engineers, GM has produced improvements.
One key was hiring JD Power to conduct Customer Satisfaction Index ratings. These ratings are now common in the USA, but not in Europe. The JD Power surveys have now gone through four waves in 18 months, said Wolf. Among the results, he said:
GM's index score improved by 26 percent over the 18 months.
Warranty costs fell 41 percent in 1997.
The battle has just begun, said Wolf. His target for 1998 is to lower defects to 80 incidents per 100 vehicles, down from 110 today.
The Corsa is GM's best, said Wolf, 'not because it is simpler, but because it is built in dedicated plants,' Figuerelas, Spain, and Eisenach, Germany.
The new Europe quality system is called PRIS, Problem Tracking and Resolution System. It gave the car line teams power to determine which problems to focus on.
Priorities are established by evaluating the frequency of the flaw, the cost of repairing it, and the severity. A flaw that could cause a total breakdown requires immediate attention.
If there are two cases per 1,000 vehicles, the problem nearly always gets scrutinized, Wolf said.
Once a problem is found, it is turned over to the Quality Problem Resolution Procedure.
The car line team assigns the problem to a section of engineering, determines the cost of fixing it and makes sure engineering changes are carried out.
'Identifying the problem and resolving it usually doesn't take more than 100 days,' said Wolf. 'In prior years it took between 94 and 720 days.'
Wolf wants to reduce the time involved to 80 days for 1998.
In past years, there was little follow through. A problem was identified, but often sat in the Technical Development Center in waiting for resolution. No one was responsible for making sure a permanent engineering change was made. Now someone is responsible.
Procedure in place
A team of engineers and others, including finance people, is in charge of changes. The team generally meets monthly. It can approve changes that affect the production cost of a vehicle up to DM2 million ($1.1 million) a year per problem.
The team has a working fund of DM20 million, which is replenished when empty, said Wolf. 'Before, just getting the proper approvals took months.'
Any problems approved for resolution by the team gets a Special Engineering Change Request. The paperwork is hand-carried by one of six people on his team to the internal or external supplier involved. The team member is also responsible for seeing that the old part is scrapped 'as fast as possible.'
The case is closed when the team gets reports from the field. 'There are still problems that take six months,' said Wolf, 'but others may only take 30 days.'