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The Digital Skeptic: Disrupting is for Schmucks

Tickers in this article: GM

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Jumpin' Joe Jebaily -- seriously, that's what his business card says -- is as certain as certain can be that, when it comes to manufacturing in the digital age, disrupting is for schmucks.

"I am very happy being the fingertip of GM ," Jebaily told me here in the corner of the lower floor of the New York International Auto Show.

Jebaily's company, the 55-person American Luxury Coach, offers mass-customized upfit manufacturing services, mostly to the truck divisions of General Motors. That's car-industry speak for serious modifications made to cars and trucks after formal production is over -- such things as fancy fenders, tricky trim packages and spiffy interior styling.

The Florence, S.C., firm's niche is to do these mods faster and more efficiently than a single mechanic -- and to a high enough spec that GM trusts Jebaily to cover his work with its full warrantee program.

"GM does 600 trucks a day," he said. "I can do 10. But I log a million miles a year making sure my trucks get sold at prices where the dealer can make a little money to keep the lights on."

Jebaily -- who says he earned his Jumpin' Joe nickname because he never stops moving -- has pioneered a hustling, face-to-face design and sales style that captures almost absurd margins in a car business commoditized by the Web and giants such as Ford , Chrysler, Nissan and Toyota .

His secret? Jebaily ingeniously reverse-engineers the role of the manufacturer to include not only design and making of car parts, but also marketing directly to customers and building exactly what they want on-demand. You know: the whole Web, mass-customization, desktop manufacturing song and dance.

But -- and this is a really big "but" -- he does it all without a serious Web presence or disintermediating General Motors or the car dealers, or anybody else in the drum-tight automotive supply chain.

"I don't need to sell a truck here to sell trucks," he explained. "I do not compete with the dealer. I do not compete with the factory. I'm here to see how people react to my trucks, then make a truck I know people want. And I go from there."