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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Mary Barra I would like to see

The spin on General Motors CEO Mary Barra is almost laughable. She supposedly is the new face of GM, a refreshing break from the institutionalized incompetence that permeated the auto maker forcing it into bankruptcy. A peek at her Wikipedia entry leaves one wondering if she would be called the "new face" if not for her gender.
Her father was a tool and die maker in the Pontiac division for 39 years. Mary began working at GM when she was 18 in a student co-op program. She studied electrical engineering at the General Motors Institute and upon graduation earned an MBA at Stanford University on a General Motors fellowship. She's a real outsider.

The Wall Street Journal has been favored by Barra with an advanced copy of the written testimony she will present to the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Congressman Tim Murphy.
"I know some of you are wondering about my commitment to solve the deep underlying cultural problems" detailed last week by an outside investigation of a troubled recall of a defective ignition switch, Ms. Barra will tell members of the House Energy and Commerce committee, according to written testimony released Tuesday ahead of her appearance on Wednesday.
"The answer is I will not rest until these problems are resolved," Ms. Barra says in her written remarks, adding "I am not afraid of the truth."
Don't worry Mary, Murphy can't handle the truth. He is playing the game he learned from House Democrats. His intention is to badger you for the entertainment of the folks back home and he hopes when he is finished you will offer up an act of perfect contrition with a firm purpose of amendment. Never again will General Motors willfully endanger the lives of innocent Americans. Thank you, Mary, go thy way and sin no more.
In my dreams the new face of GM would look the committee chairman in the eye and query, "How many of these goddam ignition switches have you built, Congressman? Electrical engineering is my game, Father Murphy, and I make no apologies for the our product. It worked as designed. Only when the dim witted began hanging junk on the key ring did it fail. It worked but not perfectly. The only places we find perfection in this world are in hypothetical designs created by personal injury lawyers."
She would then introduce a battery of statisticians and insurance actuaries and dare the committee to prove that GM built an unsafe car.
General Motors has now recalled more vehicles than it has manufactured since the bailout-17.7 million. Supposedly 13 deaths have been associated with the so called faulty ignition switch. The worst that can be said about the switch is that it may have contributed to accidents. With engine failure there is no power steering. The manual components of the braking system function but since there is no engine vacuum the power booster does not function. What is the acceptable level of performance? If nearly 18 million defective vehicles contributed to 13 deaths that means there is about a 1 in 1.3 million probably of death. What probability is acceptable? One in 5 million? One in 10 million? What is the life of the switch? Some of the cars recalled are 14 years old. GM must build a product that lasts in perpetuity despite owner misuse? If the switch is a design flaw what flaws in other auto makers' design contribute to accidents? Are there blind spots in the mirrors that must be overcome? Are all seats in all automobiles at optimal position for most drivers.
Barra should demand to be shown that the death rate in GM vehicles exceeds the industry average.
I would be critical of GM had it installed an outdated switch but it did not. Those switches were state of the art and they functioned except when they were misused by the consumers. Supposedly evil people in the company questioned as to whether there was a problem. Hell, I still do and I don't own a bolt in the business.
The aversion of risks and unrealistic expectations of safety that has befallen US society for the past 30 years probably is the result, partially, to deficiencies in mathematics on the part of the public, personal injury lawyers who seek settlements regardless of blame and government regulators and jackasses like Rep. Murphy who think only government can provide safety. What passes for unsafe by OSHA is ridiculous. Failure to wear a hard hat when working in an open field! Other regulatory agencies have their own institutionalized phobias. There is a food processing technique used throughout Europe called aseptic filling that was developed in 1961. Without going into great detail, the thermal process is applied prior to the liquid being pumped into a sterile container. In conventional thermal processing the food is pumped into the container, the container is sealed and then thermal process is applied. Because the FDA is worried about the risk of contaminated containers being filled and then never processed this method is scarcely used in food processing in the US. In Europe about 50% of milk sold is shelf stable, needing no refrigeration until opened. The FDA even allows drug manufactures to use aseptic filling but not the food industry, at least not without prohibitive regulation.
Increasingly Americans cannot differentiate risk from phobia. Electrical substations whose transformers emit a constant low hum are termed sinister. One is twice as likely to die from a fall than from a gunshot wound and 53 times more likely to die in a fire than from a bee sting but don't try reasoning with the dogmatic, perpetually endangered nitwits who always seem to make the local television news. Mrs. Barra would win my undying gratitude and  maybe even sell me a car if she would just prove that she is the new face at GM.

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