5S Gone Wild at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit


I had a chance, on Tuesday, to attend what's often informally called the “Detroit Auto Show” (or the NAIAS, formally). As a kid, I went to the show every single year and always loved it, especially the concept cars (like this year's Cadillac Elmiraj, at left. Click for a bigger view… the boat, I mean car, is BIG, but doesn't have tail fins).

Now, when you visit the Toyota plant visitor center in San Antonio, they really highlight the Toyota Production System (or Lean). The Auto Show is all about the autos… but I saw something funny that reminded me of the Lean method 5S.

The BMW display had lot of exciting cars, including the i8 plug-in hybrid concept vehicle, below. Nothing Lean about it, but it's cool.


The BMWs that weren't walled off from the attendees had markings around them on the floor that really reminded me of using tape corners around objects, as is often done in 5S efforts. The borders often show a “home location” for a item (like this example) to help avoid the problem of items going missing or not being brought back to the right place.

As a reminder, it's not “Lean” to just put tape around everything — it's got to be preventing problems or reducing waste (or helping people do their jobs more effectively).

I don't think BMW was “5S-ing” their cars… but it's an interesting design choice:

Four red paint corners with a label marking this as the BMW M 235i. I mean, the car is stationary. It's not like people are putting it on test drives during the show :-)

The picture below shows that BMW wasn't really doing 5S (or that they weren't doing it well). The area marked as “2 Series Coupe” had a couch in it instead of a car. That wouldn't pass the 5S audit.

Now, people often associate 5S as “Japanese thing” (as shown in these hospital photos). But another German automaker, Porsche, had the same design element in a glassed off display:

Green corners outlining the car. Weird.

Mercedes, VW, and Audi did not join the German Car Pseudo-5S trend.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Yeah, sure. Blame the airframer. We put in whatever our customer–the airline–wants. Virgin and Emirates have pubs and private pods in First Class. Ryan Air stuffs people in like cattle.
    You just need to fly to the Middle East more!


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