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8/3/2020 | 3 MINUTE READ

Keeping the Can-Do Spirit Alive

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The auto industry shows how agile it can be.

When the coronavirus came to town, it didn’t take the auto industry long to join the fight against it.

In short order, OEMs and suppliers were figuring out how to make masks, face shields, respirators and ventilators. Nobody ordered them to do it, and profit most definitely was not the motive.

It was all about innovation, driven by the desire to do the right thing.

Phil Keinle, who heads North American manufacturing for General Motors, best described the spirit of the day. As his engineers began to work out how to marshal GM’s vast resources and partnerships to make medical ventilators, he asked them to imagine a loved one, stricken with COVID-19 and needing one of those machines.

“How far would you go to get this thing into production?” Keinle asked. “How fast would you move?”

He was inspiring his team to tap into America’s legendary can-do attitude, the same one that turned Detroit assembly plants into the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II. It was a call to action, where the only goal is quick and effective results.

In all these cases, an extraordinary situation shows what we can do when the chips are down and everyone pulls in the same direction.

Electric Moments

These events are marked by extraordinary cooperation and exceptional teamwork. They are situations powered by adrenalin. The process is frantic, exciting, a little scary and at least a bit out of control. But when the dust finally settles, there’s a warm feeling of accomplishment in a job well done under “impossible” circumstances.

But when the dust finally settles, there’s a warm feeling of accomplishment in a job well done under “impossible” circumstances.

Feeling that rush doesn’t require a world war or global pandemic. Anyone who has scrambled to handle a high-priority, all-hands-on-deck emergency—whether personal or at work—has felt it. Suppliers know exactly what I’m talking about.

These moments push the same we-can-do-it buttons. They also can produce the same payoff: a solution conjured out of a potent mix of imagination and pragmatism.

This is the stuff that is driving the industry today as it grapples with such issues as electrification, connectivity, autonomous driving and multi-modal transportation. The pressure to execute seismic changes in the auto industry quickly and efficiently makes American industry’s spirit of innovation more important than ever.

Do It Again

Right now, everyone seems eager to get back to normal. No surprise there. There’s great comfort in familiar routines. But who knows if—or when— those familiar ways of working will return?

Perhaps instead of trying to get away from them, we should dial up our abilities for unconventional and innovative thinking even more.

COVID-19 notwithstanding, the auto industry is undertaking an extremely complex to-do makeover list. The pace will be fast and furious for years to come, at least. Luckily, the industry already has the can-do magic juice it needs to ensure a strong future.

All we need is to pay attention to every good idea we can find. That means encouraging everyone to brainstorm suggestions, even if some seem a little crazy at first. And hats off to those who look at offbeat ideas and think, “Why not?”

Relentless Innovation

The auto industry has been doing an impressive job in dealing with the expanding array of twists, turns and new challenges being thrown at just about every aspect of its business. COVID-19 is just the latest test.

Will the auto industry come through yet again? Of course it will. It’s an industry that has always been driven by relentless innovation, made possible by the deep conviction that we know we can do it.


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