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GM tops U.S. productivity
Friday, 11, 2004
Ann Arbor News

DETROIT - General Motors Corp. again topped domestic automakers in a much-watched annual ranking of manufacturing productivity, while the Chrysler Group zoomed past Ford Motor Co. for the first time.

Chrysler, which has struggled ever since its 1998 merger with German automaker Daimler-Benz AG, posted the biggest productivity gain of any automaker in this year's North America rankings, according to results released Thursday by Troy-based Harbour Consulting.

"We're very pleased with the consistent progress we continue to see in our manufacturing productivity," said Guy Briggs, GM's group vice president for manufacturing and labor relations. "However, significant cost issues, like out-of-control health-care expenses, will not allow us to rest on these accomplishments."

It took GM's workers in stamping, engine, transmission and final assembly operations an average of 35.2 hours to build a vehicle in 2003, a 5.2 percent improvement from the previous year.

For the second straight year, Harbour did not give overall rankings to Japanese automakers because they would not report results from all of their North America plants. Mercedes-Benz and BMW, which also own U.S. plants, did not participate.

But the Japanese assembly plants that participated topped the rankings. In the category measuring assembly productivity alone, Nissan Motor Corp. finished first at 17.26 hours per vehicle. GM, the best of the domestics, took an average 23.61 hours to assemble a vehicle.

Productivity is important to automakers because the more productive they are, the less it costs them to manufacture vehicles. The savings can then be invested in new designs or additional features desired by consumers.

Higher productivity also results in higher-quality vehicles, said Ron Harbour, president of Harbour Consulting.

"The highest productivity plant is the one that doesn't have hundreds of cars sitting at the end of the line waiting for repair, because the job was done right the first time," he said.

GM has improved its overall productivity an impressive 25 percent over the past six years, Ron Harbour said. Vast improvements have been made throughout its assembly, stamping, engine and transmission operations, he added.

Other GM plants in Michigan fared well in the Harbour study. A GM stamping plant in Grand Rapids ranked third by producing 842 parts per hour. The top-ranked plant in that category was GM's Parma, Ohio, stamping plant, which turned out 1,298 parts per hour.

GM's Flint V6 engine plant was the most productive among six-cylinder overhead value engine plants, requiring just 3.65 labor hours to build an engine.

Chrysler's improved performance over the past two years may be indirectly attributed to GM, Ron Harbour said.

Tom LaSorda, a former GM executive who headed the automaker's quality and lean-manufacturing efforts, was hired away by Chrysler in 2002 to overhaul Chrysler's lagging manufacturing operations. LaSorda was promoted in February to chief operating offer at the Chrysler Group.

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