Quality rating up at local GM plant

But old factory ranks last of 27 GM facilities surveyed in U.S.

May 31, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp.'s Baltimore van assembly plant posted a 16 percent improvement in quality over the past year, well above GM's overall gains, according to a national survey released yesterday.

"That was a very significant improvement," said Tim E. Stansbury who took over as manager of the local van plant in February. He credited the "talented, experience and dedicated work force" at the plant with the achievement, which compares with an 11 percent gain in quality for all of GM.

The survey, by J.D. Power & Associates, is based on the number of problems per 100 vehicles produced at a given plant.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Business section about the J.D. Power & Associates quality awards incorrectly reported General Motors' rating of problems per vehicle. GM had a rating of 130 problems per 100 vehicles. The Sun regrets the error.

The survey also evaluated the quality of cars and light trucks; Toyota dominated those rankings, winning more than half the individual categories.

Toyota and its luxury Lexus division nearly pulled off a clean sweep of the light truck competition, which includes vans, sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks. Its vehicles scored top honors in six of seven categories. Only the Ford Expedition halted Toyota's shutout of the industry.

It is the fifth consecutive year that Toyota has topped J.D. Power's quality ranking.

The Power study, in its 16th year, is considered the industry benchmark for new vehicle quality. It is based on responses from nearly 65,000 owners of new vehicle owners or lessees after driving their vehicles 90 days or more.

It was not clear yesterday how much of an impact the Power study will have on improving the chances of luring production of another vehicle to GM's Baltimore plant.

State officials, along with plant and United Auto Workers union executives, hope to persuade GM to assign another vehicle to the Baltimore plant, which produces the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans.

Astro and Safari production is scheduled until the end of the third quarter next year. After that, the company says, the market for the vans will determine the plant's future.

Stansbury said the plant's achievement "certainly sends the right message" to GM decision-makers in Detroit.

Dan Flores, a spokesman for GM's Truck Group in Pontiac, Mich., which has jurisdiction over the Baltimore plant, said the 67-year-old Broening highway facility was one of 18 GM assembly plant in North America to post a 15 percent or better improvement in quality. Twelve of GM's 31 assembly plants posted gains of 20 percent or more.

Flores called the gains at the local plant "tremendous."

Despite the improvement, Baltimore ranked at the bottom of GM's 27 U.S. assembly plants, primarily because the vans made here have not undergone a major upgrade since their introduction in the 1985 model year, Flores said. As vehicles are re-engineered, improvements are built in, making it easier for workers to build a better product.

Overall, industry quality rose 10 percent over last year's ratings. It was the largest improvement since 1997. Vehicle quality has improved by 24 percent over the past five years.

"This kind of improvement doesn't happen by accident," said Brian Walters, director of product research for Power. "It takes a concerted effort by the designers, engineers and assembly-line workers of both manufacturers and their suppliers."

Toyota topped all manufacturers with a quality rating of 107 problems per 100 vehicles. Honda was second with 113.

GM was the best of the domestic automakers, with a rating of 130 problems per vehicle. DaimlerChrysler was fourth, at 141; Ford was fifth at 143, and Nissan and Volkswagen tied for sixth with a rating of 152.

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