Failure Analaysis

   Fracture Mechanics

   Failure as a Design      Criterion

 Structural Failures
 ::  Unforeseen Loads & Consequences
 Human System Interaction  Failures
 ::  Flawed Decision Making
 :: Flawed Safety culture
 Failure of Design Management
 ::  Visionary Management Style
- De Lorean Motor Company
 ::  Inaccurate Assessment of Market Needs
- (Poor Concept Realisation) Sinclair C5 Electric Vehicle
- (The Right Product at the Wrong Time) Hughes Aircraft Company 'Spruce Goose'

The career of John Z De Lorean is a classic American success story. He was born and raised in Detroit in near-poverty, but got a scholarship to study at the Lawrence Institute of Technology. His first job was at Packard in R&D. GM recruited him to become Chief Engineer at Pontiac at age 36. He sought to develop a new market of younger buyers for affordable sporty cars – the Pontiac GTO was born. He was promoted to General Manager of Chevrolet in 1969. GM profits increased 400% in 4 years and De Lorean was promoted to Vice-President of GM’s Truck and Car Division in 1973. Differences between senior GM management and De Lorean led to his leaving the company in 1975 and founding his own car company – the De Lorean Motor Company (DMC).

His goal was ‘to design and build a car that would be as safe as possible, reliable, comfortable, handle and perform well, be enormous fun to drive and unmistakably elegant in appearance’ – whilst this describes the DMC-12 sports car (Front of Car) he produced fairly well, and it was innovative enough to still command a market today, he did not manage the design and production process well enough to ensure continued success.

De Lorean hired a GM engineer, Bill Collins, to design his car, and they contracted Giorgetto Giugiaro (Italy) to style it – this led to the unique appearance of the gull wing doors. The factory was set up in Northern Ireland at Dunmurry, with substantial financial incentives from the Northern Ireland Development Agency (around £100 million) – this despite a report from a management consultancy firm that gave the project only a 1-in-10 chance of success. Renault was contracted to build the factory, which employed 2 600 workers at its peak production. The engine was made by Renault, while Lotus designed the chassis and bodywork details. The factory started manufacturing cars in early 1981, but was in receivership by February 1982. It turned out under 10 000 cars over 21 months before the British government ordered it closed down in November 1982.

Causes: The failure of the De Lorean Motor Company can be traced to the following factors:
  1. Cost and time overrun in getting car to market. The car was pretty much in a class of its own when proposed in the mid-1970’s, but both Porsche, Mazda and Datsun had competitor cars on the road by 1981. Equally, the cost had originally been envisaged as $12 000, but the car was listed at $26 000 in 1981 – this was some $11 000 more than the Corvette, which De Lorean had intended to compete with. Factors contributing to this delay included:
    • A change from siting in Puerto Rico to Northern Ireland
    • Poor fit between Lotus (a low volume, hand finish manufacturer) and DMC engineers, who required detailed and accurate drawings for volume manufacture.
    • Friction between Lotus ideas and Bill Collins. Lotus fitted many electrical accessories which give the car a modern look, but must have contributed to delay and cost.
  2. A ‘visionary’ management style by John De Lorean. This is epitomised by their 1981 advertising video, with the slogan ‘Live the Dream’. De Lorean had substantial personal magnetism, raised finance easily, and was involved in a number of other businesses. He lived the high life and spent a lot of time away from Belfast, leaving the critical development phase largely unmanaged, but had a visionaries belief in his car and its appeal.
  3. The car had a stainless steel body, glass reinforced plastic under-body, gull wing doors, and a 130 hp Renault engine. Critics still described it as clunky, with no particularly special features, and the initial few production cars has numerous failures and break-downs.
  4. Unrealistic expectations of market. De Lorean’s market projections were for perhaps 12 000 cars a year, but buoyant initial sales led to an upwards revising of production to 20 000 cars per annum. Sales fell drastically in early 1982, as the sports car market could not absorb so many highly priced vehicles.
Design Failure:

This can be summed up as total failure to manage the overall design process (no evidence of concurrent integrated design). This led to a potentially profitable product being poorly manufactured in larger numbers than the market required, at higher cost and more slowly than originally envisaged.


De Lorean cars can still be bought in the US for $30 000, completely restored by the new incarnation of the De Lorean Motor Company.



Structural Failures | Human System Interaction Failures | Failure of Design Management

Failure Analysis  -  Fracture Mechanics  -  Failure As A Design Criterion