Blog: Dave LeggettLast-minute Element widening

Dave Leggett | 6 August 2003

Given the run of superb new models from Japanese brands of late, you'd think the designers and engineers could do no wrong. But a suprisingly frank admission at the World Class Manufacturing session of the Management Briefing Seminars in Michigan suggests otherwise.

According to WardsAuto.com, Bill Easdale, associate chief engineer-Honda of America Manufacturing, let slip that the Element SUV - in which I really enjoyed pootling around LA earlier this year - was supposed to be based on the Honda CR-V platform, but late in the already accelerated development cycle (10 months shorter than the previous record), a management review suddenly insisted that bigger, wider tyres be used.

This meant widening the vehicle by 1.2 ins. (3 cm), and forced virtually all parts that were common with the CRV to be scrapped. The instrument panel, floor, bumpers, bonnet and roof all had to be changed, as well as many parts of the assembly line.

As WardsAuto tells it, the numerous tooling development problems created by these late changes were solved through teamwork and by creating a “One Floor Room” where manufacturing engineers could observe the vehicle being designed and recommend changes long before final designs were normally submitted to manufacturing.

Suppliers also were invited to the One Floor Room to review and make recommendations before they normally saw finished designs. In some cases “partial tooling go orders” were issued that allowed suppliers to buy materials for manufacturing tools in areas where testing had just started and initial results looked good.

The best bit is this: WardsAuto said there was no time for mincing words. In one case, a special adhesive for a bumper sticker had a terrible smell. Rather than go through a lengthy explanation as to why a new adhesive should be selected, Easdale simply put an open container of the stuff on the desk of the engineer in charge of the project. The adhesive was changed shortly thereafter.

Easdale told WardsAuto.com that, despite the development glitches, the actual manufacturing launch of the Element went smoothly and has since hit all its volume and quality targets.

Last minute widening also affected the legendary Sir Alec Issigonis' famous Morris Minor. Deciding that the new car needed to be wider to look right, the great man simply ordered that prototypes be cut lengthwise and additional metal welded in. The supplier had already tooled up for the bumpers; these went on the production cars with blanking plates across the join, or so legend has it.
Graeme Roberts

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