Baltimore GM plant gets low mark


June 25, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

A new study looking at the efficiency of automotive assembly plants might give you the impression that workers at General Motors Corp.'s van plant in Baltimore are sitting down on the job, but a local union representative says that's due to the nature of the work, not the workers.

The study, conducted by the Troy, Mich.-based Harbour & Associates Inc., said the Baltimore plant ranks 25th of the 36 truck and van assembly plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico in terms of total factory efficiency.

This was well behind its top competitor, a Ford Motor Co. plant in St. Louis that produces the Aerostar van, said James Harbour, president of the automotive research company. The Ford plant was rated ninth overall and the most efficient van plant.

"It takes 40 percent more people to assemble a van at the GM plant in Baltimore than it takes Ford to assemble a van at its plant in St. Louis," Mr. Harbour said.

In terms of overall efficiency, Mr. Harbour said that the Baltimore plant requires 4.14 workers per vehicle built, compared with 2.96 at the Ford plant.

The Baltimore plant produces the rear-wheel-drive Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans. The Ford factory in St. Louis is considered Baltimore's competitor because it is the only other plant in the United States producing a rear-wheel-drive van.

Rodney A. Trump, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the 3,200 hourly workers at the Baltimore plant, called the Harbour study misleading.

Mr. Trump said that comparing the production of the Aerostar with the Astro and Safari "is comparing apples to oranges."

He said there are thousands more parts going into the Baltimore-built vans than into the Ford model. "Take the door lock, for example: The Aerostar lock has a couple of parts; ours has 35."

Jeffrey S. Kuhlman, a GM spokesman in Pontiac, Mich., pointed out that the Baltimore plant has boosted its efficiency by 5 percent since the last Harbour report, in 1992.

Other conclusions of the Harbour & Associates study:

* Chrysler is the most profitable automaker in North America.

Looking at a variety of factors, including labor costs, health care expenses and vehicle design costs, the study said that Chrysler earned $505 per vehicle more than Ford did last year and $1,017 more than GM.

Mr. Harbour attributed Chrysler's top rating to improvements in new vehicle development costs, which helped offset Ford's advantage in assembly costs.

* General Motors, the world's largest automaker, posted the biggest gains in productivity and profitability among U.S. automakers since the 1992 study.

"General Motors improved the most in two categories," Mr. Harbour, principal author of the report, told Reuters. "Number one, their productivity improvements are enormous, and two, their profitability improvements are equally enormous."

* Among the Big Three automakers, Ford had the most efficient (( factory rating, requiring 2.99 workers per vehicle. This compares with 3.94 at GM and 3.52 at Chrysler.

* Nissan's assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn., posted the best efficiency rating, at 2.29 workers per vehicle. The Toyota plant in Georgetown, Ky., required 2.44 workers per vehicle.

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