For years, General Motors has claimed to use intelligent engineers to design its automobiles. Based on the size of the company and the amazing complexity of many of its vehicles, one would think that massive teams of thousands of engineers are working full time. But ask yourself, do you actually know any engineers that work for GM? I’m an engineer, I know hundreds of engineers, and I’ve never met a bona fide GM engineer. And I bet you haven’t, either. In fact, it’s pretty obvious to me that the whole story about engineers and intelligent design at GM is a fairy tale, a pathetic myth to buoy up stock prices and keep the faithful buying from the General Authorities of automobiles.
After studying the teachings of Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists, it’s pretty clear that we can explain every feature of a typical GM car as the direct result of natural selection in the market place and survival of the fittest. Cars with air bags, for example, are more likely to result in the survival of the driver, who in turn can tell others about his or her GM car and thus perpetuate that species. Cars with headlights that work are more likely to survive (both vehicle and driver) when driving in the night. Cars with air conditioning provide a more pleasant environment for drivers that will make them and their passengers and friends more willing to purchase GM in the future. It all makes sense: all these features on automobiles provide survival advantages that ultimately result in the propagation of more vehicles from GM. That’s the mechanism that explains everything – no “intelligent design” needed.
Anyone who has studied manufacturing knows that there is tremendous variation in the natural scope of production. Companies that use actual engineers spend much of their time trying to fight natural variability, trying to impose meticulous process control to avoid mutations in the reproduction of a product. But I think General Motors embraces variability, allowing the mutations that naturally occur during production to guide the evolution of their product portfolio. The mutations that sell best are naturally selected for further production, while the real losers (e.g., a car with three wheels instead of four, or those missing a gas tank) are quickly eliminated because they don’t sell or at least don’t make it out of the parking lot.
So folks, all you really need to know about automobile manufacturing and the evolution of the modern luxury car is that every feature that looks like it was brilliantly “designed” can actually be explained away by recognizing that it provides an advantage through natural selection, an advantage that leads to more sales of that species or of other GM cars with that feature. No engineers needed. No intelligent design. And that’s why the story of intelligent engineers at General Motors, however comforting, however good for Wall Street, however helpful for maintaining GM’s hegemony in the world of automobiles, is just a fairy tale.
Let me tell you, I used to believe in GM engineers. But during my years as a student of chemical engineering, I can honestly say that I never met a GM engineer. GM never showed up at BYU to recruit any of us. That should have been a clue, but I still believed the myth my parents taught me. All those cool features – must be an engineer behind it all! But once I began to think for myself, I searched and searched, but it was all in vain. I walked the engineering departments at my work to see if anybody there was a GM engineer. Nobody! I walked through my Wisconsin neighborhood, asking family after family if any GM engineers live there. Nothing. I got out my telescope and scanned the heavens looking for GM engineers. Nothing. I sent e-mail to George Bush asking if he had any GM engineers on his staff. No answer (apart from a request for campaign donations). I rented dozens of Jackie Chan videos and studied them in detail to see if I could find even the slightest proof that GM engineers might exist. I picked up a few good moves, but not one shred of evidence to convince any thinking person that GM has ever hired a single engineer. And thus, I can tell you with absolute certainty: they don’t exist. It’s all a myth.