Mike O’Brien and the Importance of Being There

Observations about how vehicle are developed and more. . .

Genchi gembutsu is one of the principles of the Toyota Production System. It essentially means, “go and see for yourself.” Don’t depend on a report about something. Get to the source of the matter and discover what’s going on for yourself.

Mike O’Brien, who spent some 14 years at Toyota North America, with his final position there as corporate manager, Product Planning, before moving on to Hyundai Motor America, where he spent over a decade, with his last position there being vice president, Corporate Planning, Product Planning and Digital Business, uses the term genchi gembutsu in the context of how vehicles should be developed.

Mike O’Brien believes there will be a shift in the market to more cars that people want just because rather than need, a shift driven in part by how the pandemic has changed working patterns that are likely to be the norm for some time to come. (Image: Hyundai)

That is, those who are involved in the development program need to go out to where the potential customers live and work and play so as to get an up-close look at what their behaviors are vis-à-vis the vehicle that they are working on. By doing that they can obtain a grounded sense of what is missing or what could positively add to the overall experience.

But genchi gembutsu is also a good term in relation to O’Brien, as he has been there, at the places where it happens, so on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” you can get truly informed insights on the current state of the auto industry.

While you often hear people talking about creating “white space” vehicles, O’Brien says that that is the exception, not the rule, because appropriate addressing customer pain points may be solved by doing a simple thing: He notes, for example, that an issue that some older people have is loading things into the trunk of their cars, so perhaps that can be addressed by modifying the lift-over height.

He says that companies talk about benchmarking, but he suggests that it is a method that will help with the creation of something that is about five years behind the curve by the time it is launched.

One of the points that O’Brien makes in his conversation with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Jason Fogelson, freelance journalist, and me, is that coming out of the pandemic there is likely to be a decided market shift from “need” to “want.”

That is, he explains, take a typical two-car household. One of the spouses may now be working from home. Which means that the second vehicle may not be as necessary as it once was. Consequently, there may be a decision that the one vehicle that is in the household is something that does what needs to be done, but is something “special.” It could be a Bronco, Wrangler or something that doesn’t necessarily have off-road capabilities but aspects that the customers really don’t need, but want.

O’Brien discusses a number of other topics, ranging from traditional OEMs and EVs and why he thinks that hydrogen is a great solution for vehicle applications.

And you can see it all right here. —gsv

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