I’ve hardly missed a Wednesday with Frank Deford on NPR for more than 20 years. He’s the best sports analyst and thinker I’ve ever heard. Well, actual confession, I get his weekly essay through iTunes on RSS feed, so I listen when I can.

Last week he tackled the growth problem of NASCAR. I grew up in the time of “shade tree” mechanics. Those were the kids I hung out with. We (well, them mostly, I was pretty small) tuned engines, worked on all sorts of things. Friends reworked Model Ts and Model As. It was the era of “chopped and channeled” classic cars where you dropped in a 409 or 427 engine and Hurst 4-on-the-floor. We were “Chevy” or “Ford” guys.

By the late 70s or 80s, cars were becoming pretty generic. Then with computer controls, you just couldn’t work on cars very much. I even quit changing my own oil in the 90s. That’s when I began to feel that working on the MG Midget was too much work.

Back to NASCAR. Seems they commissioned a study to find out why growth in popularity has stopped. Turns out the kids of the white, good ol’ boys who grew up loving cars just don’t love them. Cars have become an expensive necessity mostly known for the entertainment value of the electronics inside.

I consider manufacturing not a black box, rather a part of a system. Another part of the system is product design and development. Another part is the customer. We’ll probably be manufacturing cars for a long time. But I wonder about the coming changes in both design and manufacture. Perhaps the time is ripe for a big auto revolution?

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