Journal Entry for Sunday, May 8th
Getting in the car to head out to Detroit, I had no idea what to expect. On Friday I drove to Virginia Beach with a friend who lives in Grosse Point, an affluent suburb just outside the city limits. She described entire city blocks completely deserted, the artist district known as the Heidelberg Project intentionally burned several times over, and abandoned buildings neglected and undisposed of due to a lack of city funds. Recently, Detroit has made many national headlines due to the financial crisis of the Detroit Public School Systems. Teacher sick-outs have left many kids out of school and forced many parents to stay home to care for the little ones. Additionally, being from Birmingham, I am familiar with the top ten cities with the highest levels of crime. For years, Detroit has ranked near the top, with Birmingham coming in not too far behind. Taking into consideration all these factors, I was curious: what would the city look like? I was expecting a former glory fallen into disrepair, but with evidence of the good old days barely visible beneath peeling paint and missing sideboards. In its peak in 1950, Detroit was home to 1.86 million people, but today has shrunk to just 700,000 residents, slightly bigger than Mobile, AL, and slightly smaller than Las Vegas, Nebraska (see source below).
When we arrived, I was surprised with the number of people we encountered around dinner time. Al Ameer, the Lebanese restaurant somewhat close to The Pink Palace was filled with people flowing in an out; to me, the city did not seem empty in the slightest. However, we have not yet encountered more than just a small slice of the city. I was not expecting the richness of the Arabic culture, or even a significantly diverse city at all. After dinner we went to an Arabic bakery called Shatila where they had countless colorful pastries and renditions of baklava (excuse me for not knowing the real names of all the treats). Below you’ll find pictures of the bakery, but unfortunately no pictures of our feast at Al Ameer. Tomorrow, I’ll be interested to see the rest of the city on our driving tour to get a better grasp of its personality and culture.
French pastries at Shatila Bakery
Arabic pastries at Shatila Bakery
Journal Entry for Monday, May 9th
This morning, Lizz and I tested out the breakfast place downstairs and reflected on all we’ve learned about cars thus far. We all gathered downstairs and after running up to the room one last time to bring David and Thomas a personally delivered breakfast of leftover baklava, we hit the road for our tour of the city. We visited Grosse Point first and saw what looked to me like multi-million dollar houses on the water front. Just a few turns later, the houses transformed from pristine and perfectly manicured to run-down and in desperate need of repair. The houses clearly once made up a great neighborhood, but have not been kept up well over the years. A few more streets later, the houses were clearly abandoned, falling in in some places, and burnt down in others. I was shocked to find the stark contrast of such an affluent neighborhood so close to such an impoverished neighborhood. Having spoken to my friend who lives in Grosse Point before arriving, she explained that most people living in Grosse Point work in the auto industry, usually in higher up jobs anywhere from engineering to executive to parts producers. Unfortunately, the jobs are few and far between and those unlucky enough to have lost their jobs thanks to machines and a streamlined manufacturing process or cuts due to increased wages often have a difficult time finding other work.
I thought the Heidelberg Project was very interesting, and would love to have the chance to sit down with the man who thought up the idea of creating an art district to illustrate the love/hate relationship between the city and its people. The art to me is representative of the people’s effort to make it known that their city is both beautiful and abandoned in many areas at the same time. The clocks placed in miscellaneous places on the street are perhaps representative of the passing time and its physical effect on houses, mental effect on the unemployed in the area, and the financial effect on Detroit as a city. As Professor Smitka pointed out, the Heidelberg Project is also an effort to unify the neighborhood and create a sense of community in a place that previously may not have known any sort of community atmosphere within the past 20 years.
After the Heidelberg Project, we headed over to Federal-Mogul, which I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited about. I was surprised at how much I learned at Federal-Mogul and how interesting the parts production process truly was. I had no idea the amount of detail, careful planning and testing and engineering that went into each product, no matter how small. I was especially intrigued with the precision measuring machines and the high-tech microscopes and lasers that they used to capture the surfaces and the changes after wear and tear on various products. The other day in class, we discussed how if one part in a car breaks, or two or three or four, the car may not be able to run. A car can be made up of thousands of parts, and I am finally realized the extent of the precision that goes into each part’s manufacturing. It makes me appreciate all that my car is so much more knowing how much care goes into even the smallest part of an engine.
Additionally, I found it interesting how Keri Westbrooke addressed the importance of being aware of how the competitors are looking forward and developing their own technologies. That makes sense, but I didn’t realize the extent of compiling information and data about the competitors that many companies undergo, especially those in the auto industry. It also never occurred to me that many of the patents and ideas for the “cutting edge” technology are already in existence and may be floating around in the patents database or gathering dust on the shelf of an engineer in a university research facility only to be brought out at the time when it is most useful to the customer, and at a time when it seems that customers will be most interested in investing in a new product. I thought Westbrooke did an excellent job elaborating on the idea that being first isn’t always a good thing, especially for smaller companies who sometimes are scared to take the risk of trying something new or are unable to sacrifice millions in funding research that may or may not produce a viable product. Conversely, for companies such as Ford, GM, and Chrysler, expending a few million or billion dollars for developing a shorter piston or a new spark plug may be worth the investment considering the size of their total revenues.
Journal Entry for Tuesday, May 10th
I honestly had no idea what to expect at the Ford Rouge. I knew it was a car assembly plant, but had no idea as to how it got its name (which translates to the Red in French), or why it was so famous, or what it produced there. I definitely didn’t comprehend the magnitude or the importance of the Rouge, and frankly had never heard of it before this class. Howev
er, I was presently surprised, first by the innovative videos. Having read Brave New World in high school, I had a pretty good understanding of the assembly line and its standing in history before coming to college. The Rouge made it real.
The workers who perform the same task every minute every day were real. The moving floor was real. The partial car that snaked from line to line and worker to worker that wasn’t really a car but a compilation of parts, was real. First the body, then the doors, headlights, the removal of the protective cardboard, the addition of the windshield, etc. etc. etc. After I got over feeling bad for looking at the assembly workers and making them feel like zoo animals by watching them from a catwalk above, I actually enjoyed watching the oddly satisfactory process of a car methodically pieced together.
The assembly plant was followed by a visit to the museum. Although I had greater expectations for the museum than I did the Rouge I was also pleasantly surprised by everything they had to offer and everything I learned. The Henry Ford is not just home to an auto exhibit, but also has a collection of knives, guns, train cars, plane part, a timeline of the 1900s, an Oscar Meyer Weiner truck, the Rosa Parks bus, an interactive MTV exhibit and more.
Even the progression of the automobile exhibit captured my attention. I didn’t really know anything at all about cars before signing up for this class other than 1. I have a car and 2. you put the key in the ignition to turn it on and 3. don’t put diesel in a regular gasoline car. I loved seeing the thunderbird, the old racing cars, the cars I don’t have a name for, and the cars in which I would love to roll up to a drive-in movie.
However, I think I was most surprised by Hau Thai-Teng’s presentation about his job as VP of Global Purchasing and Ford’s production and innovation process as a whole. He talked about Ford as an experience, and compared the experience of Ford to the experience of Apple. I think everyone in our class can relate to receiving or saving up for our first iPod. Many of us have been to loyal to Apple ever since for a variety of reasons. What Apple has that a lot of companies miss is a production and innovation process that captures everything from store experience to online support to the apple store to Apple Care + to iTunes to purchasing a MacBook Pro to partnering with Applications to developing new products. Ford is following a similar business model as Apple and trying to create a Ford experience, whether that means a relationship with a dealer, auto financing, car insurance, getting involved in Venture Capital, participating in the development of autonomous cars, or influencing suppliers. Ford is so much more than a car company and has played such an iconic role in American history, and finally, for me the importance of the auto industry all fell into place. What I found particularly interesting about Mr. Thai-Teng’s presentation was that, as a prospective consultant, how he included the pros and cons of starting business in developing countries, the pros and cons of Ford’s business experience, and the pros and cons of working with suppliers vs. producing parts yourself. Mr. Thai-Teng truly opened my eyes to the complexity of the manufacturing process of the car, but also the business side of Ford and what it takes to run a global car company. To anyone interested in the auto industry, I would highly recommend speaking to Mr. Thai-Teng to gain a greater understanding of what it means to be an auto industry employee and what it means to embody the ideals of a century old company that still is on the forefront of innovation even today.
Journal Entry for Wednesday, May 11th
I thought everything Thomas Klier had to say and offer to our class was not only a really valuable experience, but also really interesting. That beings said, I was intrigued to physically go to the Fed. After accidentally trying to go through the armored back entrance (probably where the money and gold trucks go in and out), we navigated our way through the front gate and to the entrance of the building. Professor Smitka wasn’t kidding, the place was built like a fortress after 9/11. At the entrance, the security guards checked our bags,but them through metal detectors, and had us walk through security. Fortunately none of us had the misfortune of being pat down in front of the class… Our tour guide took us first to the cash room where several men were monitoring the incoming cash, verifying its status as a government-issue note, monitoring it for wear and tear, and compiling all sorted notes into bricks, and the bricks into cubes which are placed into a giant vault capable of storing $1 billion+ dollars. I didn’t realize the lifespan of a dollar bill. It makes sense that smaller denominations would last a shorter time, since they usually are handled more frequently, but I definitely thought that $1s lasted years and years. In actuality, 1 dollar bills last about 18 months, 5s and 10s slightly longer, and 100s and 2s lasting the longest considering how rarely they are used and handled. One classmate brought up the possibility of replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the 5 dollar bill and the timeline and probability of that happening. Unfortunately, since we have about the same security clearance and influence of a class of 3rd graders visiting the White House, we didn’t learn any secret life changing information that the rest of the world is not yet privy to know. We did learn all abut the cash transactions and the role of the Fed in controlling the physical money supply and reserves.
In the afternoon, we visited UMTRI, where they extensively research car parts, new car technology, and car testing. I was intrigued by the detail that went into each part, such as the head lights. I had no idea that so much thought went into the angle of the headlights, whether they move or not, the wattage and type of bulb, the tint of white, etc. Although much of what they said was over my head, I did enjoy looking at the test track and learning about the obstacles that autonomous cars and autonomous car engineers might face in the near future.
After UMTRI, we went to a delicious Italian restaurant where I ordered perhaps my favorite meal on this trip so far: a prosciutto and arugula pizza with parmesan and home-made crust. When dinner was over, we wandered around the streets near MIT, exploring and seeing what there was to see before heading back for the night to rest up for tomorrow.
Journal Entry for Thursday, May 12th
I have only ever heard of or seen car recyclers in movies, like the disney movie Wall-E. Although I did expect something like a junkyard or a compressor or recycler to dispose of a car at the end of its life, it never really occurred to me exactly how they do it or what happens to a car when it is deemed “totaled.” I thought it was really interesting to see all the tire hubs and engines hanging on the walls. There were seat belts and car doors and head lights and so many different things. They had one half that you could do-it-yourself and remove the necessary parts to fix your own car. As we walked around the car lot, most of the cars were almost stripped to the bone by parts-hunters. The other half is taken up by cars waiting for the auto-recycler to remove parts to be sold when a need arises. The price structuring and business model were well-thought out and complex, as they use a database to determine shifting demand, supply, changing prices, and which cars should be purchased next.
I also was intrigued by the Detroit Institute of Art; although I had heard about the recent bankruptcy of the city of Detroit in the news, I didn’t realize that the local art museum’s assets were almost seized as compensation. When we arrived, I was shocked at the opulence of the building with marble, steel gates with gold finish, the moldings on the walls, the breadth and scope of the art, and the sheer value of the artwork, especially the Diego Rivera mural we found near the entrance. I wish I could have had more time to go through each exhibit more carefully, but I did enjoy the contrast between the modern art with the medieval art and that of the impressionists. After the museum, the minivan went to tour downtown Detroit. We ended up going to the riverwalk and getting ice cream at a local shop and hanging out until dinner, when it was time to head over to Vinsetta Garage’s.
I must admit, I don’t eat much meat in the dining hall and sorority dining at WLU (except chicken), but we had some exceptional burgers on this trip. Vinsetta garage’s also wins the award of having the best fried Mozzarella I’ve ever had. Believe me, I’ve had a lot. I loved getting to meet the Ward and Automotive News journalists, and wished we could have had more time or traded around the table to get different perspectives on the industry, their jobs, and what its like to be involved in the journalism field during a time when journalism is shifting away from physical copies of papers/magazines to online copies.
Journal Entry for Friday, May 13th
On our way home from Detroit, we made a pit stop at a Transportation Research center that caters largely to Honda and the government to put vehicles through all kinds of tests the jostle, wear and tear, corrode, heat up, cool down, and do anything you can possibly think of to possibly hurt the car. They look for safety issues and try to find where the car is at its weakest. They do crash tests and ice tests, skid tests, salt water tests, mud tests, and so much more. The test track was probably one of my top 3 favorite things that we did. It was so cool to go to the test track (in Mercedes 15 person van, no less) and go around the embankment of the track at such an incline you feel like the van might tip. I wish we could have gone in a smaller car to do more of the intense testing, or even gotten to see a crash simulator, but I know they are really busy doing other things besides giving tours to college kids. If we could go back, I do have one question for them: how is computer simulations and computer testing the cars before they are even physically created changing their business and testing?