DETROIT - Dick Lannen probably knows dealership service better than anyone else at General Motors.
He balked if vehicle designers created lights that required more than a few minutes to replace a bulb. He demanded that window regulators be installed without rivets because service technicians would have to drill out the rivets just to the service the motor.
'If you're going to design a window regulator mechanism in a door to make the window go up and down, you'd better think about how we're going to service it,' Lannen said.
'You can design it one way which is very easy to build, and it might be cheaper to build, but the technician may not be able to service it. He might not be able to get the window regulator out of the car after they put it in.'
Lannen's job has been to make sure that his list of 300 service requirements are designed into all GM vehicles so problems can be diagnosed and repaired efficiently.
Lannen's watch ended Dec. 23. That day, Lannen, 62, retired as the executive director of GM's Service Technology Group and North American Service Operations. He helped form Service Technology Group in 1988; it merged with GM's Service Operations Group in 1992.
The group is in charge of service functions as they relate to the development of diagnostics, the training of dealership technicians, service tools and equipment, policy and procedures, and customer relations.
Lannen said he will continue as a consultant until March 1.
Peter Lord, former director of warranty claims at Service Technology Group, is now its executive director.
Lannen started in the automotive industry as a dealership service technician in 1954. He worked in dealerships for five years and owned an independent repair shop for one year before he joined GM as a materials return inspector handling dealer warranty claims in Chevrolet's Buffalo, N.Y., zone in 1960.
He held various Chevrolet sales and service zone and regional manager jobs for 28 years. During most of that time, diagnosing a vehicle service problem was fairly straightforward, Lannen said.
'You could listen to the car and tell what was wrong,' he said. 'You could adjust things like the carburetor and the ignition systems. It was relatively simple, and there was very little guessing.'
In the early 1980s, vehicles became more complicated. GM began to install computer-controlled devices on its vehicles that enabled technicians to read trouble codes from a flashing 'check engine' light on the instrument panel.
That was followed by the installation of body control modules that gave technicians more diagnostic capabilities.
As the vehicles became more sophisticated, diagnosing a vehicle repair problem became more complicated.
In 1985, GM introduced Tech 1, a hand-held diagnostic scan tool that technicians attached to a vehicle's diagnostic connector to access trouble codes and monitor the operation of sensors to make repairs.
Lannen became a leading in-house critic of GM's disjointed service operations, which were divided into several parts with engineering, truck operations and the individual divisions going their own way.
With the growing complexity of vehicle repair, it made sense to put service under one organization. In 1988, after having spent more than a quarter of a century at Chevrolet, Lannen left his post as the division's assistant general sales manager in charge of service. He was tapped to run the new entity: Service Technology Group.
'I said we should get our act together and get ahead of this thing,' he said. 'We shouldn't have five people deciding how we do diagnostics and electronics and service information and training.
'I didn't realize that being the critic, I'd get the job.'
But that was just the beginning. Every year more electronic modules were added and vehicles became even more complex. Dealership technicians needed even more help.
Lannen helped usher in a major upgrade in computing power in many dealership service departments in 1996. That is when GM introduced the Tech 2 hand-held scan tool that still is used in GM dealerships around the world.
Lannen said he thinks better vehicle quality, coupled with things such as 100,000-mile spark plugs, longer-life brake linings and stainless steel exhaust systems, will cause warranty repairs and customer-paid repairs to decrease.
Still, that will not put the vehicle service industry out of business.
Said Lannen: 'We'll still want to get in a vehicle and drive it; it's still going to need maintenance and repair, and, boy, will the diagnostics be crucial then.'