By Jeff Burnstein, President, RIA
For years, General Motors has been the largest user of robots in North America, possibly even the world. They installed the first robot in the U.S. The company is inextricably tied to the history of the robotics industry. So, does it follow that if I drive a GM vehicle I’m helping the robotics industry?
For years, GM’s support of robotics hasn’t been a good enough reason for me to get behind the wheel of a GM car. I’ve driven Ford and Chrysler products, as well as some Japanese nameplates over the past two decades. All of these companes use robots, too. And, depite my childhood bias towards GM (my father loved Buicks & Cadillacs best of all and those were the cars I grew up with), I haven’t driven a GM car for at least 15 years.
Why? Because like many Americans, my experience with GM in the 1980s was a bad one and it turned me off. The first car I ever purchased on my own was a new Pontiac Grand Am. I loved it at first. Until it became a rust bucket within four or five years. Until it’s engine blew at less than 70,000 miles. Until I was spending a huge amount on auto repairs each year while my friends were driving gleaming, seemingly defect-free imports. This wasn’t just perception, it was reality.
I think about this a lot because a similar story is told about robotics and machine vison. Some early users were turned off for good and never came back to see the improvements made to the technology. Today’s robots and vision systems are extremely reliable and users are reaping impressive benefits. RIA and our sister trade group AIA fight hard to convince companies that were turned off years ago that they need to take another look at these critical technologies if they want to successfully compete in the global marketplace.
Which brings me back to my car choice. Last month, it was time to find a new car. Cash for clunkers didn’t help me since I now lease my cars (in part based on not wanting to continue my close relationship with the auto mechanic who serviced my old Grand Am!).
So, when I heard GM was leasing again, I decided to add them to my shopping list (in part to try and help them during this difficult time), but not really expecting to find anything that could compete with Ford, Toyota, Honda, etc.
Guess what? I’m now driving a 2010 Buick Lacrosse CXS and love it! It was the best of the cars I looked at by far. Lease rates were competitive. It’s built at the GM Fairfax Plant in Kansas City which uses lots of robots. And the CXS version has the same engine as the Cadillac CTS (my father, who passed away three years ago, would be thrilled!).
And this hammered home a point to me that I stress all the time to potential members of RIA and AIA. “Don’t join just because you want to help us, join because it’s in your best interest. If we offer value that exceeds your investment, we want you to join. If we don’t, then we understand why you aren’t joining.” Our job here is to create so much value that everyone in our industry wants to be a member.
I now think the “new GM” understands this. People won’t buy GM cars just because they are an American company, or just because they are currently in need of help. And, it’s unlikely many will do it because it’s good for the robotics industry because as I said, other automakers use robots, too.
GM has to build great cars that people want to drive. And, if the Buick Lacrosse I’m now driving is any indication (or the Buick Enclave, the GMC Terrain, and the Cadillac CTS, to name three others I test drove), GM is doing just that.
I’m not going to suggest that you make GM your next vehicle choice. All I’m going to say is put them on your shopping list. Just as I tell people who were turned off by robots and/or vision systems in the past, take another look — it’s in your best interest!
And, to provide full disclosure, I also have a 2009 Mercury Mariner that my wife drives. Ford is doing an excellent job, too. If I hadn’t gone with the Buick Lacrosse, I likely would have gone with the new Ford Taurus.
GM and Ford aren’t the companies they were a while back, they are better. And, long term, I”m hoping that’s going to be good for the robotics industry as well, as people start buying more of their cars and they start investing more heavily in automation to keep up with demand!
What car do you drive and what influenced your choice”?