BMW product development chief Wolfgang Ziebart and auto industry analyst James Womack have reputations for not mincing words.
Both figures will take the microphone at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit on Tuesday morning, Jan. 18.
Womack co-wrote the 1990 book The Machine That Changed the World, a work that angered and inspired auto executives in North America and Europe. Womack's research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology coined the term 'lean manufacturing.' He also co-wrote the 1996 book Lean Thinking. He now runs the Lean Enterprise Institute in Brookline, Mass.
Ziebart's tough-minded approach to engineering helped ignite a management shake-up at BMW in Munich earlier this year. As head of BMW's 'Rover Group Turnaround Team,' Ziebart led a group of 80 engineers through Rover's money-losing British operations last fall.
In October 1998, just three months before the long-awaited launch of Rover's new 75 sedan, Ziebart called a halt to the project and ordered the car re-engineered to improve quality. The move idled Rover's plant until last spring, even as BMW management was anxiously waiting for improved Rover revenues.
BMW's management shake-up in February resulted in Ziebart, a 21-year BMW veteran and father of the new 3 series, replacing Wolfgang Reitzle as head of worldwide vehicle development.
Womack appeared on the U.S. automotive scene in the 1980s as director of MIT's transportation-industry think tank. Womack and his university colleagues concluded that the Japanese auto industry - particularly Toyota Motor Corp. - had created a superior approach to auto production that was more efficient and agile. The group's efforts were routinely dismissed as out of touch with industry realities.
That changed in 1991. Just months after The Machine appeared in 1990, the U.S. auto industry slipped into a recession. Japanese factory practices fell under intense scrutiny, and the book became a best-seller in Detroit. Automakers and suppliers around the industry are still striving for the sort of efficient factory and distribution methods discussed in the book.