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Ford ballyhoing “not taking bailout money” and “doing just fine going it alone” has got to be one of the most brilliant, and deceptive, marketing ploys of this century. First of all, losing $1.4 billion in a quarter is hardly doing fine. Ford has borrowed against every asset they own, including the blue oval logo, has no unleveraged assets, and is up to their eyeballs in debt. They are betting everything on one roll of the dice: the economy will pick up before they run out of money to pay their enormous junk bond debt.

But it is their deceptive marketing ploy that one has to admire. Ford knows that a lot of people are opposed to giving tax money to failed corporations. They know that broadcasting how they, alone, are making it on their own, with NO government money, will attract customers. After all, who would want to buy a car from a failing company that begs for tax money to stay alive? Certainly no red blooded, true blue American.

Ford hopes to capture the lion’s share of sales lost by GM and Chrysler. They know they have already lost the global auto war to better managed companies like Toyota, Nissan, VW, that build quality products and stand behind them. Their only hope, before they run out of money, is to steal customers from GM and Chrysler, since they cannot compete with Toyota and others.

So Ford never mentions the largest recall in history, the fact that they are the only corporation in American History to be charged with reckless homicide, or the hundreds of people burned alive in defective Fords. Bill Ford was strangely silent about class action lawsuits against Ford for defective products that have killed and maimed thousands. But he sure broadcasted about how Ford is “doing just fine, making it on its own, not taking any bailout money….” Brilliant. But then again, Ford has a long history of misleading people. Remember “At Ford Quality is Job One” when they were stuggling to avoid bankruptcy from the recall of millions of cars with defective transmissions? Remember “Nobody Sweats the Details Like Ford” when they were offering buyouts to try and stay alive? Oh yeh, Ford has one area of competancy: a marketing department that can mislead, misinform, and deceive people. Who knows? Maybe they will actually survive. Now THAT would be a tragedy on the American People.

Bill Ford put a happy face on Ford Motor Company on the Larry King Live show. But there was a lot that he “forgot” to mention. I wonder why?

For starters, he did not mention the class action suit in Texas for defective ignition switches that causes Fords to go up in flames, sometimes hours after the engine is turned off. Even when the Ford is in the garage, which has happened, burning down people’s homes. He did not mention that despite hundreds of Ford’s ignited by bad ignition switches Ford would not acknowledge that the switches were defective.

He also forgot to mention the largest recall in automotive history, when the government forced Ford to recall 23,000,000 vehicles for defective transmissions. He forgot to explain how Ford went whining to the government that if they were forced to recall every vehicle that they had manufactured over a period of years that the company would have to file for bankruptcy. Being a good, understanding government, in the back pocket of Corporate America, the government simply recalled the recall order, and, instead, made Ford mail out 23,000,000 stickers for Ford owners to paste on their dashboard warning that the transmissions in their cars could cause injury or death. 

Another thing Bill failed to mention is that today Fords rank right up there with Toyotas and Hondas in quality. Which is surprising, because they even put that on their TV ads. But what they never explained was WHY it took Ford 30 years to equal the quality of Toyota and Honda, and why the quality was not equal all along.

Bill COULD have explained that  Ford quality was so bad in the 70s that the company almost folded. He COULD have explained that the only reason Toyota and Honda are in America  today is because the American car buyer desperately sought out reliable, dependable vehicles, which could not be found in cars produced by the Big Three. In other words, Bill COULD have admitted that we would not have had foreign car companies here if Detroit would have given the American people the kind of quality vehicles that they wanted. 

Now if Bill had mentioned these important points, he would also have had to explain that Ford paid Toyota to show them HOW to improve quality back in the 70s. He would have had to explain that Ford hired Dr. W. Edwards Deming, known as the man who brought the quality revolution to Japan, and turned Japan from a country that made junk ashtrays to a country that made the best quality in the world.

Unfortunately, if he opened that can of worms, he would have had to explain how Dr. Deming found the top management of Ford Motor Company to be the very worst he had ever seen. Dr. Deming worked with Xerox, GM, many other U.S. and Japanese companies to improve their quality. He would have had to explain that Dr. Deming found upper management at Ford to be like warring street gangs, with each gang afraid that their management clique competitors would get an advantage if they followed Dr. Deming’s suggestions. He would have had to admit that Dr. Deming gathered up his stuff, put it in his briefcase, and walked out of Ford headquarters in Dearborn because he believed that Ford was a company that was impossible to work with. He would have had to explain that the ONLY reason Ford quality improved was because they would have failed if they continued to make the junk that they made in the 70s and 80s.

But one has to give credit to Ford for their brilliant current marketing ploy. Incredibly, it seems to be working. They make a lot of hay about being the only car company that has NOT taken bailout money. What a tremendous marketing tool. Ford knows that a whole lot of Americans are, how shall I put it, not real happy with the government throwing our tax money at failing companys. Ford can say ‘look here, we don’t want government money, we are well managed so we can make it on our own.’  Ergo, people will buy Fords rather than buy GMs or Chryslers, who are so poorly managed that THEY had to go whining to Washington for bailout money.

Of course Bill COULD have mentioned that FoMoCo is up to its eyeballs in high interest debt, and has borrowed to the max on every single asset owned by Ford, including Dearborn Corporate Headquarters, all their plants and real estate, all their patents, and, yes, even their blue oval logo. He COULD have mentioned that this debt is high interest debt because Ford is judged by the rating agencies as Junk that is unlikely to survive. But then again, why would Bill mention these things? After all, he wanted to put a happy face on Ford for the American People.

It was open season on women in Ford plants before laws were made, and enforced, and lawsuits forced companys to provide an unintimidating work atmosphere. Sexual harassment in Ford plants was some of the very worst, as a “60 Minutes” segment pointed out. I worked at Ford when we pulled out of the bad recession in 1975, and females became a larger part of the work force.

It was the first time since WWII that many, many women worked side by side with men on the manufacturing floor. There were no special rules for women, and no one really thought out the kinds of issues that would have to be dealt with. It was a good example of poor planning and implimentation that is so typical of the U.S. auto industry.

The term “sexual harassment” had not yet been invented, because prior to that time very few women worked in heavy manufacturing. We were just ending the era of the stay-at-home wife and mother. Since seniority plays such a large role because of the UAW contract, most women automatically were assigned to the highly undesirable midnight shift. Men on the midnight shift bid on day shift or afternoon shift jobs, as the economy expanded, and the new female employees went to midnights.

At first most men regarded the women with caution, not knowing how they were to act or talk. Did the normal social rules apply: low on the foul language, let women do the lighter work, etc. But after awhile those rules began to break down, and the men had a new game: see who can talk the dirtiest and watch the women’s reactions.

It became a contest. Men within earshot of women yelled profanities and made sure the women heard. Most women ignored the profanities and went about their jobs. But it became hard to ignore the condoms and pictures. Some condoms were blow up and tied to the machines women operated. One guy took a piece of twine 15 feet long, blew up condums and tied them to the string like Christmas decorations.

When condums no longer got the attention of the women, the dirty pictures and sex toys started. They would be taped to women’s machines, stapled to bulletin boards, put under the wiper blades of women’s cars in the parking lot. When a woman ran a machine close enough to male operator’s they would yell back and forth about oral sex, getting horny when the wife cut them off, etc.

One employee on the Case Line cut out a picture of a naked woman with her legs spread, from Hustler magazine, took it to a printer, had it made into a life size standup image, and, every night, stood it by his machine. He won the foul man contest.

I am old school, having been raised in a culture where you do not use foul language in mixed company, and you show respect to women. I was extremely disturbed, and took up this outrageous atmosphere with both the personnel manager and the UAW. How did it turn out? I was ridiculed and called “Captain America – fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way.”

Feeling that since the perpetrators were hourly employees and UAW members, I would first approach the UAW. The midnight UAW rep looked at me like I was crazy and said “What’s wrong, Bob, ain’tchu gittin none? ha,ha,ha.” Then he explained that my only concern, being management, was whether my hourly employees were following the rules. “And there ain’t no rules about how to talk when you got broads around. Don’t try to re-write the contract. If these women don’t like it here, let them go work some place else. Ford been makin’ cars fer damn near 75 years. Must be doing something right. Don’t be bothering me with shit like this. These women are all cock hounds or they wouldn”t work in no auto plant.” 

My next move was to get an appointment with the personnel manager. He listened patiently to my complaint. Then he said “Yes, this sort of thing is happening in all of our plants. We are not sure how to deal with it. We have rules on safety glasses, on attendance, on quotas, etc. But we have no rules on how people are allowed to talk. It goes to free speech. Your concern is to run your department and make your numbers. Ford did not hire you to be a speech policeman. So just do your job and don’t worry about how the hourly employees talk to each other. After all, this is an auto plant, not a day care center.”

But management did not back off from exploiting the situation. During the first 30 days, an hourly employee was not covered by the UAW contract, and was not a member of the union. It was a probationary period, during which time the employees foreman could terminate the employee at any time, and the union would have no say. Many foreman solicited sex from female employees in exchange for giving them a thumbs up on the probationary period.

One of the foreman that I knew, who was, ironically, a deacon in his church, and known as the “Sneakin Deacon” held more than one “final interview”  in a local motel on the 28th or 29th day of the woman’s probationary period. How did the atmosphere in the Ford plants affect female employees? I can only give my opinion, for what it is worth.

What about the women? Many were afraid to complain, because they needed the job. Besides that, they had no one to complain to. So they adapted. After awhile, many of the women became as foul as the men. They talked like drunken sailors on liberty in the red light district. In due time nothing that was said or done could get a response, because they had become as foul and hardened as the men. Ford helped bring an end to the era of respect and common decency in America.

High speed rail is good. It is very good. But why did we let General Motors destroy the excellent public transportaion system we had in all our cities and all our rural areas for many decades?

From the turn of the 20th century up until the mid 1960s every city had trolleys, buses, and trains. Few people needed cars, except for family trips. It was a pleasure to take the family on a “Sunday Drive” and most families had only one car. Many families had no car, and were able to meet all their transportation needs with the buses, trolleys, and trains that we had.

But the auto industry wanted to increase sales. They wanted people to have multiple cars. They did not want people to  have the convenience of inexpensive public transportion. They wanted people to be dependent on cars alone to get around.

So they started to systematically buy out the small bus lines, and trolley lines and   scrap them. After a few years General Motors had bought out many of these small, independent companies and scrapped buses and trolleys in massive numbers. A few years ago 60 Minutes did a story on the hundreds and hundreds of buses and trolleys GM scrapped.

This was also the time period when the Big Three (it was four or five back then) learned that they could condition people to attach their sense of self worth to the vehicles they owned. Cars were not only a means to travel about. They were a means to identify a person’s status, position, and importance to the community. When you bought a car you were not merely purchasing a means to get around. You were purchasing a symbol on which you would be judged by the shallow criteria of the age of advertising.

I can recall the time, in the fifties and sixties, when it became a shameful thing to admit that you did not have a car, and had to rely on buses, trolleys, and trains, which became increasingly unavailable. In the meantime, car sales skyrocketed, and we morphed into a society where families had multiple vehicles. This is exactly what the auto industry wanted us to become. What could be better for sales than a society who had few transportation options other than a car? Better yet, use planned obselescence to make sure the cars began to break down after the warranty expired, and people would opt to buy new cars more often.

The old cliche says what goes around comes around, and it certainly is applicable to the auto industry. They helped eliminate transportation options, built cars that fell apart after only a few years, made us totally dependent on their product, and made untold billions doing it. Now we will have to spend billions restoring a public transportation system that our grandparents enjoyed. Did someone say ironic?

Here is a question from out in left field. How about if we take back all the money we threw away on the auto industry and rebuild the public transportation system that Detroit dismantled? Anyone for a high speed train bailout?

People have to wonder how the quality of American cars got so bad in the first place. What caused the American car buyer to flock to foreign made cars and all but abandon the Big Three? I cannot answer that question in its entirety. But I can detail what I know about working in the Sharonville Transmission Plant producing automatic transmissions that killed 200, injured 1400, and resulted in the largest recall in automotive history.

In my opinion, after supervising the building of transmissions for six years, there were four major components of the incredible deterioration in American car quality: Machine maintainance, purchased components, enforcement of quality standards, and the rage inside auto workers at how Ford treated them.

Lets do machine maintainence first.  Everyone knows that you have to keep equipment oiled, clean, and properly maintained if you want a good lawnmower, gas furnace, car, or any other mechanical or electrical device. At Ford machines were run until they simply would not run anymore. Then they were patched up to continue running, whether they worked right or not.

For example, there were machines in department 285 that would not run unless the operator tied a gigantic rubber band to hold a moving part steady so it would not wobble. To fix the machine properly would require a complete overhaul, and Ford never, in my experience completely overhauled machines. Numbers were all that counted. Not people, not machines, just numbers. If the machine produced the number of parts it was supposed to produce, whether they were good or bad, they machine was kept running.

Ford constantly pressured vendors to lower the cost of purchased components. If they did not, Ford would go to another vendor. Cheap, cheap, cheap. That is what Ford wanted, and that is what Ford got. How did vendors get cheaper and cheaper and cheaper parts? By lowering quality. There was no other way. They speeded up machines. They pressured their suppliers to get cheaper raw materials to make the components. They cut inspection of the parts to a “statistical” system. This meant every 100th part was inspected, whereas previously every part was inspected.

Ford switched from aluminum stators in torque converters to plastic stators. When the first batch of plastic stators came in they were chipped, cracked, and some of the bearings fell out when you picked up the stator. But, hey, they saved money. We went from heavy gave copper welding wire to thin gauge that did not give a proper weld. We got bolts with no threads. We got coils of steel that was so thin that you you bend it in your hands. Did you have a Ford transmission that leaked oil? Bingo. Thin out on steel coils produce oil pans that leadk under metal stress.

So what kind of sub assemblys did all of this off quality produce. A good example would be torque converters that would not rotate internally. If it does not rotate, your transmission doesn’t work.Why did they not rotate? Because of all the above. What did Ford do about it? 

They invented an “expanding machine.” What was that? It forced pressure (hydraulic) into the converter and pushed out the sides, much like you blow up a baloon. What did that do? It made so much play in the converter that it would rotate, even with a bad stator, poor welds, etc. After all, it only had to work for 12,000 miles, because  Ford’s warranty was 12,000 miles or 12 months. After that it was YOUR problem, not Fords.

Then there was enforcement of quality standards. Oh, yes indeed, Ford had very specific quality standards for each and every part, sub assembly, and finished transmission. But when machines are not maintained, and components are crap, those quality standards can not be met. So they are rejected. Right?

Right. Rejected. Until the manager comes out of the office screaming like an attacking Apache that the numbers are not being met because of reject tags. Then what happens? The manager overrides the reject, and production goes on. One inspector at Sharonville had 17 years of copies of reject tags he had issued, along with the QC supervisor’s signature overriding his reject. Why did he do this? He told me it was because someday all this crap Sharonville was producing was goin to come back to haunt Ford, and by Gawd he had proof that he had done his job.

The final leg of the bad quality story lies with the treatment of hourly employees by Ford Motor Company. They were thought of as scum, they were treated like prisinors of war. They seethed with resentment. Some of them drank heavily to forget what they had to face at work. Some took dope. Some took it out on their families, and there was massive divorce numbers, as well as family breakdown.

But they felt good to fight back at the enemy, Ford Motor Company. Sabotage was common. A man could put an entire department down by banging on certain electronic controls, or spitting a mouthful of water into an electrical. The only weapons the hourly had to fight an oppressive, unbearable work place was to sabotage both production and quality.

The result of all this? The largest recall in automotive history. 23,000,000 transmissions. Ford would have gone bankrupt had the Reagan Administration not revoked the authority to order mandatory recalls.

The auto industry took the most productive worker in the world and turned him into a bundle of resentment, seething with rage, and doing as little work as possible. Absenteeism became a problem, as did drug addiction, divorce, and family breakdown. Sabotage was common in the auto plants.These problems were rare in the American work force before the dawn of the auto industry.

I grew up in the coal region, and remember well my father, uncles, neighbors, who trekked to the mines day after day, year in and year out, and worked under conditions that people today could not even visualise. Yet these men did not hate the companies that employed them. Divorce was unheard of, alcoholism was rare, although most of the miners did drink. But they were not bubbling with resentment against the coal companies, and they did not do as little as possible as a silent protest. In fact, these were the hardest working men I have ever known.

It took the dehumaniztion of auto plants to destroy the work ethic that built America. What happened? Mostly, Henry Ford happened, and everybody copied. Henry Ford was not the industrial icon that you learned about in school. He did not invent the automobile. What he did invent was a method to dehumanize men and make them respond like machines rather than like human beings.

Ford was famous for its five dollar a day wages, which was the highest wages paid to factory workers anywhere in the world. Thousands of men quit good jobs and headed for Detroit to get on at Ford. They had no idea what they were in for.

Labor turnover in the Ford plant was 70% per year, despite the high wages. Ford hired excons and thugs to “manage” his plant. Suspicion that you were in favor of a union could get you beat up by Ford’s thugs. On the line men were treated as machines. They were not allowed to speak while working, and developed a method of communication, called “Ford Talk” where they spoke out of the sides of their mouths, at a whisper, to the worker next to them. Joseph Stahlin once sent a delegation to study Henry Ford’s method of controlling people, and Ford was the only American publically admired by Adolph Hitler.

What doe all this have to do with today? After all, that was almost a hundred years ago. Yes it was. But Ford’s methods of “managing” people changed very little in that hundred years. When I interviewed for a foreman’s job at the Sharonville Transmission Plant, I was shocked by the zone superintendent who described the kind of person he was looking for.

He began the interview with a sneer and said “I see you have two college degrees. Well, I don’t need a foreman with a lot of brains. I need a foreman with a lot of balls. Out on that floor we have the lowest scum in the Cincinnati area. We have drunks. We have dope heads. We have the laziest bastards north of the Mason-Dixon line. There is only one way you can deal with people like that. They have to be afraid of you. They have to say ‘if I f$#% with this guy, he will rack my ass’ You can’t treat these people like you treat normal people. If they think you aren’t tough, they will chew your ass up and spit you out. I need a foreman who has an invisible sign on his back that everybody can see. The sign says f*&+ with me and you will pay a price, because I am the meanest p$@*& east of the Mississippi. These scumbags don’t know respect. All they know is fear.”

I thought that the superintendent had exaggerated. Later, as I took over a department, I learned that, if anything, he had understated the atmosphere in Ford plants. Foremen and General Foremen were used much as Henry Ford used his hired thugs 75 years prior. The work atmosphere was similar to gang warfare. The Bloods and the Crypts. Management took action. The hourly retaliated. Management took more severe action, and the retaliation escalated. The mentality in the plant was like a prison camp.

I wondered how quality automobiles could possibly be built in an atmosphere like this. Of course the answer was they could not. The quality of the American car became an international joke, as better managed foreign companies moved in and took over our car market with better built, more reliable cars.

I knew people who worked at both Toyota and Nissan. Both men had been at Ford. Both men told me that the work atmosphere at Toyota and Nissan was so different from Ford that there was no comparison. The one who went to Nissan said he would never again, if he lived to be 100, work for an American company. The Japanese know how to manage, he said, while the Americans only know how to intimidate.

How did Ford workers fight back? They did as little as they could get by with. They used active and passive sabotage. Bad quality and low production was viewed as a blow against an oppressor. Were these bad people?

No, they were not. They are your neighbors. They sit in church next to you. Their kids go to school with your kids. But when they are treated like prisinors of war, they will fight back. We lost the global auto war in the auto factories. Don’t let anyone tell you that it was because of poor design or poor fuel economy. It was because of incredibly poor management that was a holdover from the days of Henry Ford.

“Will it last until the warranty expires?” was the only  real quality standard used at the Sharonville Transmission Plant in the 70s. True, this was a long time ago. But it was during the 70s that the quality of American cars were an international disgrace, and 33 states passed “lemon laws” to protect people from Detroit. It was the shoody quality coming out of Detroit that destroyed people’s confidence in American cars, and that opened the door wide for better built foreign cars to come in and capture our market. Smaller, weaker, less experienced car companies like Toyota, Honda, VW did not invade us. They were invited in by the junk produced by the Big Three.

Back then Ford warranty was 12 months or 12,000 miles, which ever came first. The guiding principle for quality control was the level of warranty defects. Nobody got excited until warranty defects jumped. Then all hell broke loose, because Ford had to pay for repairs. After the warranty expired, Ford did not care what broke down.

We built the C-4 automatic transmission back then. You remember the C-4. That was the one that jumped out of park into reverse, killing 200 people and injuring 1400.  That was the one that brought the largest recall in automotive history – 23,000,000 Fords for defective transmissions. The only thing that saved Ford Motor Company from bankruptcy on that massive recall was President Reagan. He was new in office, we were just coming out of recession, and he did not want one of America’s largest corporations declaring bankruptcy on his watch. His solution was simple. Take away the authority of the government to order mandatory recalls.

Ford squeeked through the crisis by sending out, via U.S. Mail, 23,000,000 stickers to put on dashboards, warning people that their transmission could cause injury or death. That is why Ford’s much repeated boasting today that they do not need any government money is so deceptive. The taxpayers already paid to save Ford’s butt, as did 200 people, with their lives. The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford spent at least $20,000,000 in shutup money paid to survivors of the transmission deaths.

What can I say about quality standards at the Sharonville Transmission Plant in the 70s? There was a saying at Sharonville among the hourly: “There is no such thing as a defective part at Sharonville.” One of the inspectors insisted on making copies of his quality reports at the end of each shift. I asked him why. He said “Because I keep rejecting this S&%$, and at the end of the shift my foreman overrules me because they need these parts for production. Some day the s*(&^ is going to hit the fan on all this junk we are making. But they ain’t gonna be able to nail my a%$ because I got 14 years worth of quality reports in my file boxes at home that shows that I done my job and rejected these defective parts, but I was always overuled by management.”

What else can I say? Lets see. There was the bad quality coils of steel coming out of Ford’s River Rouge Steel Plant. Sometimes it was so thin you could bend the oil pans in your hands. Not to worry. They would last for at least 12 months before metal fatigue set in and caused oil leakage. That would not be Ford’s problem.

 Oh, yes. Plastic stators is a good one. Stators for the torque converters were always aluminum, since 1958 when the plant first made transmissions. But plastic stators were cheaper. So we went to plastic stators. They came in cracked, chipped, and sometimes the bearings would simply fall out of the stator as the assembler picked it up to assemble into torque converters.

Expanded converters is a good one. Sometimes the torque converter would not rotate internally. There could be a lot of reasons. Sometimes the cover plate was round and the impellor housing was egg shaped, and that constricted internal rotation. Or the stator could have been assembled upside down. But whatever the reason, Ford’s answer was to build an expander.

The expander pumped hydraulic pressure into the converter, bulging out the sides, as in blowing up a baloon. Then the internal parts were so loose that they would rotate. There were times when 20% of the torque converters produced at Sharonville were expanded converters.

I am not surprised by the virtual collapse of the U.S. auto industry. What surprises me is that it lasted as long as it did. If we actually had a free market, Detroit would have folded years ago. It has stayed in business only because the government has kept it in businss.

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Author of A Savage Factory, Robert Dewar

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