The auto industry lost a champion of U.S. manufacturing when Richard E. Dauch died this month at 71.
The co-founder and longtime CEO of supplier American Axle, was hard-charging, hard-working and about as subtle as a blitzing linebacker, a position he played at Purdue University.
He tackled every challenge with gusto, starting at General Motors in 1964. By 30, he was GM's youngest assembly plant manager. In 1976, Volkswagen tapped him to launch its Westmoreland, Pa., assembly plant, the first high-volume transplant in the United States. In 1980, he took over Chrysler manufacturing, where he introduced just-in-time material management, sequential delivery and three-shift production.
Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate of U.S. manufacturing, insisting that it could match the quality and productivity of any other region. In 1994, he co-founded American Axle, starting with five parts plants spun off from GM, and diversified the customer base into a $2.9 billion operation.
Ironically, American Axle became the outlier in his U.S. manufacturing argument. His effort to cut employee wages in the 2008 recession sparked a lengthy UAW strike, and last year the company closed its vaunted Detroit complex.
Dauch was sometimes controversial, but he was always at the cutting edge of manufacturing.