GM is doing more with fewer Productivity shows marked improvement at Baltimore van plant

June 13, 1996|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

The General Motors Corp. van assembly plant in Baltimore chalked up an impressive gain in productivity last year, but it still uses more people than its primary competitor to build each vehicle, according to a study by an automotive research group.

The study, conducted by the Troy, Mich.-based Harbour & Associates Inc., concluded that the local plant used 3.82 workers per vehicle to build its Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, down from 4.02 in 1994.

"Ranked by percentage of improvement, Baltimore had the 18th-best performance of the 74 car and truck plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico last year," said Ronald E. Harbour, vice president of the research group.

"That's a 5 percent improvement," he said. "It's not the best -- far from it -- but it's pretty good."

RTC The best productivity gain last year was posted by Ford Motor Co.'s pickup truck plant in Louisville, Ky. It boosted productivity by 22.5 percent and uses only 2.9 workers to build a truck.

Despite last year's gain, the Baltimore plant still languishes near the bottom of the research company's truck plant productivity ,, list.

Harbour said Baltimore ranked 26th of the 38 truck and van assembly plants in North America. It moved up from 27th place in 1994.

"Baltimore's direct competitor, the Ford Aerostar plant in St. Louis, was number 20 among the truck and van plants," Harbour said.

The Aerostar is Ford's rear-wheel-drive van that competes for sales with the Astro and Safari. The St. Louis plant uses 3.51 workers per vehicle assembled, according to the study.

"But I'm not sure this is an apples to apples comparison," said Harbour, noting that since Ford added production of the Explorer sport utility vehicle to the assembly line at St. Louis, the plant's productivity has declined.

"The productivity level in St. Louis got 9 percent worse after they added the Explorer," he said. "This is probably because of all the extras they put on the Explorer. It comes equipped like a Lincoln."

Jeffrey S. Kuhlman, a spokesman for the Baltimore plant, said the company was encouraged by the Harbour report, but continues to work to boost productivity.

Kuhlman attributed the gains to changes in the design of the van that make it easier to assemble.

He said the local plant has reduced the number of parts needed to build the van and has made other changes, including the use of "snap fittings" instead of bolts or screws to hold sheet metal in place.

He said engineers and designers are always looking for easier ways to build the vans as they make changes in their styling.

Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., plant was at the top of both the Harbour Report's best car assembly and truck assembly lists. Nissan used just 2.05 workers per vehicle to build its trucks and 2.11 workers to assemble its cars.

The best performing Big Three plant was Chrysler Corp.'s Bramalea car plant in Ontario, Canada, which required 2.58 workers to assemble one car.

For the third year in a row, Chrysler was North America's low-cost producer, earning an average profit per vehicle of $628. General Motors was second, with a per-vehicle profit of $431, up from $125 in 1994. Ford came in at $415.

According to the study, Honda posted a worldwide profit of $102 per vehicle and Toyota came in at $400. Nissan, however, posted a loss of $760 per vehicle.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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