Car: A Drama of the American Workplace, by Mary Walton
In her acknowledgments, Mary Walton says she envisioned this book “as less a technical treatise than the story of the people who make and market the cars, touching on as many lives as possible.”
While this is not a corporate expose, former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Walton (Deming Management at Work) doesn’t pull any punches. In fact, as she says in her introduction, Ford came to regret the wide access it had given her.
Regrets aside, the result is an engrossing drama with a protagonist (Ford Motor Company), a goal (redesigning its bestselling Taurus) and obstacles (budget struggles; Japanese competition). The reason Walton chose the 1996 Taurus was that it was not just a new car design but represented Ford’s attempt to build cars the “Japanese” way, through cooperation and teamwork.
Walton spent three years observing the Taurus team in action, and her compulsive note-taking pays off with fascinating insights into every aspect of the car’s creation. Taking full advantage of her remarkable access, she covers everything: the designers’ original vision, the engineers’ struggle to make that vision a reality, the hand-aching work on the assembly line, endless marketing schemes to sell the Taurus “dream.”
Walton keeps the spotlight on the workers, all of whom feel passionate about the parts of the car for which they’re responsible. Walton’s tone is not reverent and she finds ample opportunities for humor, especially within the bloated Ford bureaucracy (“corporate jargon… had spread through the company like an evil computer virus, attacking nouns and twisting them into verbs.”)
While the cast of characters may at times be too extensive, Walton does an admirable job of making the redesign of a car into a compelling human-interest story.
Car: A Drama of the American Workplace, by Mary Walton (W. W. Norton & Company)