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Jamie Hresko eyes bodies--of the vehicle variety--every chance he gets, trying to close the quality perception gap, ...
GM's smooth operator
Jamie Hresko eyes bodies--of the vehicle variety--every chance he gets, trying to close the quality perception gap, win customers
By Jim Mateja
Tribune auto reporter
Published October 8, 2006
DETROIT -- Early arrivals jockeyed for a spot near the podium as they waited for Rick Wagoner.
The General Motors chairman was going to give a company pep talk on the 2007 models displayed along the River Walk plaza outside GM headquarters in the Renaissance Center.
Yet rather than find a seat, Jamie Hresko strolled among the cars, rubbing his hands along the body panels and his fingers in each gap between those panels.
"I can't help myself. I think it's a curse," Hresko said when spotted giving the machines the once-over. "I'm always looking at fits and finishes. I'll walk into a plant and look at 200 to 300 cars."
Could be why Hresko was named vice president of quality for General Motors in February.
But Hresko's job goes beyond ensuring smooth surfaces and tight tolerances between panels. He's also responsible for the workmanship of all the mechanical components and interior features.
"What makes me most angry is when a vehicle leaves the assembly plant when it shouldn't. Don't give me a 4 1/2-mm gap at the top and a 3 1/2-mm gap at the bottom of a body panel, give me 4 millimeters top to bottom," said Hresko, 42, who started at GM in 1982 as a co-op student at the General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich.
He went on to become a supervisor on the engine line at the company's Flint assembly plant. Besides the degree from the GM Institute, he has a master's in engineering from Stanford.
"He must have had a minor in human nature because he would always help people solve problems whenever he could," said Steve Thomson, plant quality network representative for the United Auto Workers at GM's Orion, Mich., assembly plant. Hresko supervised the body shop there. "He always drove that--bringing quality up, bringing costs down--and he was so down to earth and such a people person he got everyone to buy into it."
Hresko donned the quality mantle after overseeing stamping operations at eight plants, replacing Annette Clayton when she left the company. That's where he got serious about tolerances so body panels didn't have to be coaxed into place with a rubber mallet at the plant, formerly the norm.
When he spots a hood or door out of alignment, "I write down the VIN [vehicle identification number] and track down where it was made and why it happened."
Hresko points out that GM quality is moving in the right direction. Recalls have been reduced by 65 percent in the last two years and warranty claims are down 40 percent in the last five. That's one of the reasons it introduced a five-year/100,000 mile powertrain (engine and transmission) warranty on its 2007 models.
"We're working to close the quality perception gap with Toyota, and to change the perception you have to get it right the first time," Hresko said. "But it takes time for people to recognize change. That's one reason for our 100,000-mile warranty, to win customers back with coverage that makes people feel we are for real."
Time is exactly what it will take, according to Chance Parker, executive director of product research for J.D. Power and Associates, which conducts annual quality studies for the industry.
"GM has made progress, but they haven't caught Toyota yet," Parker said. "The quality in some vehicles is very good, in others it's not. GM needs more consistency across its entire product portfolio."
Parker noted that GM has a lot riding on product launches in the next few years. "The challenge is that historically it struggles at new-product launches. It needs to get that under control, especially now that it faces cost implications if it doesn't with a longer warranty."
While Hresko is trying to close the gaps between body as well as instrument panels, GM and the domestic industry still have work to do.
"Historically the domestics have been good enough, but to compete with Toyota, good enough isn't good enough," said Joe Phillippi, principal of AutoTrends.
And consumers aren't the only ones he must win over.
"My wife, Kathy, and I were driving and when we came to a stoplight she asked why I was looking at the woman in the car next to us. I told her, `I'm not checking out the woman, I'm checking out her body,'" Hresko said.
He quickly noted that he meant the car's body and reminded that such scrutiny was part of his job.
Hresko visits one to two dealerships a week to check out the hardware and accompanies his wife on visits to the mall, where he browses the parking lot.
"At times Kathy gets sick of me looking at cars. But sometimes she joins me and helps take notes. And when I go through parking lots, she warns me it's not a good idea to be rubbing body panels," he said.
Hresko's efforts are guided by the philosophy that money invested to do the design, engineering and assembly of a vehicle right the first time saves a lot of expense later.
"You always pay more later when you have to go back and fix it, or worse, when you turn consumers away from your product," he said.
"It's absolutely important to design the quality into its vehicles because when it makes a design mistake, the dealer can't fix it--and that's when customers get frustrated."