The Times, Jul 2009
No industry has suffered more in this recession than the car industry. So surely, now is the time to put worries about social and environmental issues aside, and focus on recovery. This is just about survival, right?
Wrong. The Government (and many NGOs) actually see the original lack of focus by the industry on many of these issues, particularly the environmental ones, as one of the main reasons why the industry is where it is. And the only way the industry will receive the support that many manufacturers are calling for is for them to move faster towards more environmentally-friendly models. They are being pushed in this direction (and in the case of GM are being given no choice about it) in any case: President Obama recently announced plans for all new vehicles built in the US to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, which will force car and truck makers to manufacture vehicles that are 30 percent more efficient than current day models.
The longer term goal may be improved environmental performance, but there is also a real need to focus on the social issues in the short term too. The way they communicate the crisis to their staff (BA and Total take note), the way they keep the communities in which they manufacture on side, and the way they keep their existing customers as active supporters (how weird is it when someone makes what is usually the second biggest purchase in their lives they normally have no pre-existing relationship with the company who makes it?) – is critically important. Just look at the example set by Honda in the UK. Although now back working, through paycuts, reduced hours and partial closure the company has managed to avoid numerous forced redundancies and show just how important people are in this equation (maybe this is one of the reasons that in this month’s Concerned Consumer Index Honda is the most trusted car manufacturer). Treating people as intelligent individuals, involving them in the process, providing transparency throughout and showing that no one group is benefitting over and above another will help ensure the sector can make it through to its medium term goal of delivering low carbon personalised transport.