There's no doubt that new technology can be scary, but it's time for industry leaders to overcome their fears.
During the past two decades the world's automakers have poured billions of dollars into supercomputers, software programs and gee-whiz technologies such as virtual reality 'caves' to help speed up the development of vehicles. Computers design vehicles, calculate critical dimensions for building parts and even design and test workstations on the assembly line.
Yet for all the money spent and the capabilities of the technology, the industry seems loath to take off its training wheels.
Case in point: The team that designed General Motors' new compact sport-utilities did all the design work and just about all the engineering work on computers. The federal government even accepted GM's computer data as the sole proof that the vehicles satisfied three safety regulations.
Yet when all the computer work was completed, instead of going directly to cutting tooling for the trucks, the program chief had full-sized clay models of the vehicles built - a time-consuming and costly step. The program chief said he just didn't trust what he saw on the computer screen.
No one wants to risk quality or safety problems. That's understandable, especially with global tragedies such as the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire debacle so fresh in our memories. There may be some critical areas where physical testing still is necessary. But using a computer model and a clay model is counterproductive. It's like wearing a belt and suspenders.
In an era in which automakers are pushing their employees and their suppliers to do more with less resources and do it faster, it's a mistake not to take full advantage of the gains that computerized tools offer.
It's time to put the training wheels on the shelf.