DETROIT - General Motors will boost its efforts to standardize manufacturing in its plants - and begin persuading alliance partners to adopt its system.
A shuffling of manufacturing executives sets the stage for the push. GM is moving James Wiemels, 56, to Detroit from his post as vice president for manufacturing in Europe. Timothy Lee, 51, who had been executive director for manufacturing engineering for North America, will replace him.
Gerald Elson, general manager of GM vehicle operations, said he and Wiemels will strive to get all plants "running common" - using the GM Global Manufacturing System and common processes.
The system is adopted from knowledge gained about Toyota's manufacturing system at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif.
The system is used in many European and North American plants, Elson said, but it must be spread to more plants in those regions, as well as plants in Latin America and Asia.
"The question becomes, does GM go all common?" Elson said. "We're moving very fast in that direction."
"Running common" is the GM phrase for installing the same machinery, control software and manufacturing practices at various plants. This helps the company cut costs because it can buy machinery and services in bulk. With common equipment and practices, engineers and hourly workers can learn their jobs faster, which cuts costs and improves accuracy.
The system has earned GM higher marks in two key industry studies. The J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study has shown a steady decline in new-car defects in recent years. And the Harbour Report North America 2002, which examined manufacturing efficiency, showed GM gaining 4.5 percent in productivity this year. The report also said the company also had the most productive North American plant: the Oshawa No. 1 plant in Ontario.
GM also will push its alliance partners - Suzuki Motor Corp., Isuzu Motors Ltd., Daewoo Corp., Fiat Auto S.p.A. and Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. - to align with GM practices, Elson said. Because its partners are independent, GM must use diplomacy and persuasion, but standard systems will be needed as the companies work on joint vehicle-development programs, he said.
"The relations between GM and the alliance companies are areas of tremendous potential," Elson said. "We, as GM, need to extract the reality out of that potential."