In his book, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, John DeLorean grumbled that during his time in the 1960s and early 1970s at the world's top automaker, it was run by committees.
Not anymore. Now it's run by boards.
The creation of a global Automotive Product Board was heralded by the company last week as putting car guys in charge of the global auto business. It gives more control to the guys sitting in Detroit, perhaps at the expense of other regions.
There were some bad jokes floating around the Geneva auto show last week, including one about the Pontiac Aztek having been a Solstice designed by a board. Another one involved deck furniture on a well-known, ill-fated luxury liner (but that one was probably just a reaction to GM's U.S. sales report for February, when the automaker's share of U.S. light-vehicle sales slipped to 24.4 percent.)
No matter. The jokes were cruel, humorless and unwarranted examples of what's wrong with today's world.
The structural changes were explained to me as creating a matrix management system in which Ed Welburn now has direct authority and responsibility for all 11 of GM's design centers, Jim Queen has direct authority and responsibility for all 12 of GM's engineering centers, and Bo Andersson has direct purchasing responsibility and authority in all of GM's regional operations.
John Smith is the new group vice president of global product planning. Larry Burns now is vice president of r&d and strategic planning.
That seems to make sense. After all, it's similar to the global product system Toyota uses. On the organizational chart, Welburn, Queen and Andersson had dotted lines across the regions, though their primary jobs were in North America. Now they have solid lines across the regions. Engineering, design and purchasing executives will report up through their regional organizations.
Welburn, Queen and Andersson now will control the resources they need to get things done in other regions.
Welburn told me that the changes would be especially beneficial in the area of design, which hasn't had the same global traction as engineering, manufacturing and purchasing.
It's surprising that after all the investment in GM's system of product architectures and common manufacturing processes, the automaker still can't build North American Epislon cars in European Epsilon plants.
But wasn't this supposed to have been happening already? What has the Automotive Strategy Board been doing?
Back when it was created, the rationale for the strategy board sounded a lot like the rationale for the new product board. What's not clear yet is how this new board is different from and better than the older board. Both have mostly the same personnel, including corporate and regional brass.
The differences: Katy Barclay, vice president of global human resources; Eric Feldstein, chairman of General Motors Acceptance Corp.; and Ralph Szygenda, the chief information officer, are only on the strategy board.
Jim Queen, John Smith and Ed Welburn are only on the product board.
A stroll around the Geneva auto show made one thing clear: When it comes to developing good, affordable, competitive products, GM's new global Automotive Product Board has no time to lose.
I wonder what DeLorean would say about that.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at