Friday, June 02, 2006

Efficient auto factories aren't spared the ax

Friday, June 02, 2006
Efficient auto factories aren't spared the ax

Ford's Atlanta plant and three GM facilities will be shuttered despite excellent productivity.

Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News

Here's an ironic twist: Four of the 10 most productive automotive assembly plants in North America are slated to be shuttered or idled in the next few years.

Ford Motor Co.'s Atlanta assembly plant was the region's most productive plant, taking an average 15.4 hours per vehicle to assemble Ford Taurus sedans, according to the 2006 Harbour Report released Thursday. The plant is one of seven Ford announced it is closing by 2008.

The No. 2 assembly plant for productivity, General Motors Corp.'s Oshawa, Ontario plant, also is scheduled for closure. Two more plants on the top-10 list, GM's Lansing M factory and the Saturn Ion line of its Spring Hill, Tenn., assembly complex, also will cease production.

The closures show that good productivity doesn't protect a plant if its product isn't selling or it's not in a good location.

"When you evaluate closing or retaining a plant, there's hundreds of criteria," said Ron Harbour, president of Harbour Consulting. "Productivity is only one of them -- certainly an important one, but it's not the only one."

Ford and GM are closing numerous factories in an effort to become profitable again in North America.

"Quite often we find ourselves in the manufacturing business measuring the wrong things. Some of those things are efficiency, capacity and utilization," said David Hilton, senior manager of global outsourcing for New York-based Capgemini. Producing cars and trucks that are in demand and having flexible lines are what matters, he said.

Ford's Atlanta plant was ultimately put on the chopping block because it was too far from Ford's supply base and landlocked by its proximity to Hartsfield Airport, said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's vice president, of vehicle operations, North America.

"The actual facility itself is limited in terms of what we could do with it in the long term," he said.

Ford considered building a new plant in the Atlanta area at a site with more room to grow. "That really is a testament to the employees down there. But we couldn't make sense of it financially."

Samuel Stephens, president of United Auto Workers Local 822 in Atlanta, which represents Ford workers, said the plant's workers are still proud of their accomplishments. "The auto workers here had no control over the closure, but we have a reputation to live up to," Stephens said.

You can reach Josee Valcourt at (313) 222-2300 or


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