Did GM Plan To Reduce Number Of Part Changes Lead To Cobalt Mess?

Back in the days of Old GM, head of Cobalt/Delta platform cars Lori Queen started a program called "Big 4," designed to cut down on parts changes from suppliers. Was a desire to meet the goals of this program the reason why a replacement for a defective part was given the same part number, leading to GM's current headache?

Ed Niedermeyer on the DailyKanban dug up information on a GM program called "Big 4" that was designed to cut down on the number of parts changes from its suppliers as a means of streamlining the carmaking process, as Automotive News reported back in 2005. The program was started by the fairly high up Vehicle Line Executive Lori Queen.

In 2006, GM's faulty ignition switch changed, but the switch's parts number did not. Is it possible that the reason the company didn't change the part number had nothing to do with covering up a safety issue but rather merely to meet the company's internal goals?

Queen was also in charge of the Delta platform cars, including the Cobalt and everything else that's getting recalled at the moment. Again, while GM is yet to make any clear announcement about who is at fault (their investigation is ongoing, as CEO Barra was keen to remind Congress recently), the part number issue is the weakest link in the recall chain.

It should also be noted that in the same year Queen's husband, then-vice president Jim Queen, boasted about cutting engineering budgets to the tune of a billion dollars in savings, as Automotive News reported back in '06.

What's amazing is that this is this all in the public record (and even briefly noted in this Automotive News article yesterday), none of which Barra mentioned to Congress, as Niedermeyer points out in his Daily Kanban article.

What she did not at any point disclose was that GM actually had a program, called "Big 4," aimed at pressuring engineers and suppliers to make fewer changes to parts… and that the VLE for the recalled vehicles was its pioneer. Surely this is a program that Barra would have been aware of in her years of engineering and production experience at GM, and surely she realizes that this is exactly the kind of information Congress was looking for.

All of this information is available because GM bragged about how great it was at the time, which was repeated and reported in the media.

While there's no direct proof of a line between reducing the number of parts and retaining the part number on an improved ignition, it does provide an explanation for GM's decision-making that doesn't require a massive coverup to hide a defect but rather a more traditional attempt by engineers to meet self-imposed, possibly arbitrary goals.

Photo Credit: Chevrolet, AP (Queen pictured in 2005)