GM plant raises van productivity

Baltimore facility jumps to No. 3 in U.S. efficiency


June 16, 2000|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Workers at the General Motors Corp. minivan assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore posted a nearly 6 percent gain in productivity last year, according to a study released yesterday by an automotive industry research company.

The Broening Highway plant, which makes the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, jumped two positions to become the No. 3 minivan plant in the country in productivity.

The Harbour Report, a study of the North American auto industry by Harbour & Associates Inc., a Troy, Mich.-based manufacturing consultant and research company, also showed that GM made greater gains in productivity last year than its competitors, including Nissan, Toyota and Honda.

But those three foreign-owned manufacturers continued to have the most productive overall automotive manufacturing operations, including assembly, power-train production and metal stamping.

Nissan's operation in Smyrna, Ga., was the industry leader in overall operation, utilizing 18.70 labor hours per vehicle.

Looking at only assembly operations, the top honor went to Ford Motor Co.'s factory in Atlanta, where it makes the Taurus and Sable models. The plant used 17.16 labor hours per vehicle.

Ronald E. Harbour, president of the company bearing his name, said that GM is "doing a significant job of getting its act together when it comes to improving productivity. They are making more progress than anyone else."

He said the Baltimore plant required 29.09 labor hours for each vehicle made last year. This was down from 30.98 hours in 1998.

Ford's Windstar plant in Ontario, Canada, was North America's most productive minivan plant, requiring 25.57 hours per vehicle.

The only other minivan plant to finish ahead of Baltimore was GM's Doraville, Ga., plant, which makes the Montana, Silhouette and Venture vehicles.

Fourth on the Harbour's minivan list was DaimlerChrysler's plant in Ontario, Canada; followed by Ford's Avon Lake, Ohio, factory and DaimlerChrysler's complex in St. Louis.

Harbour said the Baltimore plant has "done a remarkable job," considering the age of the Astro and Safari and the fact that they have not been redesigned since their introduction in 1984. When vehicles are redesigned they usually require fewer parts in the assembly process.

Tom Wickham, a GM spokesman, said the manufacturing improvements in Baltimore are part of GM's across-the-board gains. Overall, GM posted an 8.8 percent jump in assembly plant productivity last year.

Donald Hackman, a senior vice president at GM in charge of global manufacturing, said the Harbour Report "confirms that we are doing the right things, and they are finally paying off in the bottom line." He noted that GM closed its productivity gap with Ford by about 40 percent last year.

Other findings of the study include:

DaimlerChrysler is the worldwide leader in average profit per vehicle, at $1,497.

Ford has the biggest average profit per vehicle sold in North America, at $1,735.

Nissan lost an average of $17 on each vehicle it made last year.

If GM's labor productivity matched that of Nissan, GM would require 41,754 less workers.

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