The machine in question is, of course, the automobile. Working through an industry-backed enterprise dubbed the International Motor Vehicle Program, MIT scholars Womack, Jones, and Roos spent five years and five million dollars investigating how First World auto makers engineer, manufacture, and vend their products. Drawing on 85 monographs prepared by a small army of researchers, the authors offer an accessible overview that sheds considerable light on emergent trends in a pivotal industry whose viability has substantive implications for the economic aspirations of host countries. The MIT Three devote a great deal of attention to how Japan produces manufactured goods in surpassingly efficient fashion. At the heart of their study, in fact, is an extended appreciation of so-called lean production. This minimalist approach, which relies on teamwork, initiative, just-in-time parts deliveries, and allied techniques, the authors find, yields decisively greater rewards than either assembly-line or traditional craft procedures. Among other gains, they cite enhanced ability to respond to market conditions, flexibility, reduced requirements for floor space as well as labor, and superior quality. As Womack, Jones, and Roos make clear, however, bare-bones operations demand top-to-bottom commitment from all members of the organization, plus cooperation from suppliers, distributors, and sales outlets. Nor do they claim lean production is the wholly private preserve of Japanese corporations like Toyota; rival concerns (notably, Ford) have adapted relatively well, in their view, to the new realities of an increasingly fragmented marketplace. Less encouraging, the IMVP directors argue, are prospects for old-line auto makers in continental Europe, where union pressures have delayed adoption of no-frills practices. Ready or not, they conclude, the global industry must deal with lean production--a development that for all its residual uncertainties promises not only to affect the East/West balance of economic power but also to recast standard operating procedures in the automotive and other industries. An insightful status report on an immensely consequential business that's in the midst of a potentially convulsive transition. The readable text has a wealth of helpful tabular material and a complete listing of the research papers on which it is based.