DETROIT -- Toyota passed Nissan last year as the most efficient producer of vehicles in North America, according to the annual Harbour Report released Thursday.
Also, the Big 3 are close to each other in terms of total hours needed to produce a vehicle. As a group, they continue to cut their labor hours and draw closer to Japanese automakers.
And General Motors' Oshawa, Ontario, No. 1 plant passed Nissan's Altima line in Smyrna, Tenn., as the most efficient assembly plant in North America, using 15.85 labor hours per vehicle. The Oshawa No. 1 plant produces the Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo cars.
Harbour Consulting of Troy, Mich., measures the productivity of North America's automobile factories. Its calculation is based on the total number of labor hours in the final assembly, stamping, engine and transmission operations, divided by the total number of vehicles produced.
Toyota Motor Corp. cut its total labor hours per vehicle 5.5 percent from last year's study to 27.90 hours, according to the report.
The report ranks Toyota production efficiency the best overall, even though the automaker's assembly plants in Princeton, Ind., and Cambridge, Ontario, did not participate in the study -- a situation that has occurred in previous years of the report. Several of Nissan Motor Co.'s and Honda Motor Co.'s plants also did not participate this year, which also has happened in previous years.
If the missing plants were included in the calculation, Toyotas and Hondas scores would not change, said Harbour President Ron Harbour, and Nissans would increase only slightly.
"Toyota's labor productivity lead equates to a $350 to $500 per vehicle cost advantage relative to domestic manufacturers," said Harbour President Ron Harbour.
He noted that Toyota has placed more emphasis on the Toyota Production System and the automaker is aggressively spreading standardized manufacturing processes throughout its plants.
Launches hit Nissan
Nissan, traditionally the leader in assembly plant productivity, saw its overall labor hours per vehicle climb 4.8 percent to 29.43 hours. The reason: The automaker introduced several redesigned products in 2004, including the Maxima sedan, Pathfinder SUV and the Frontier pickup at its Smyrna plant.
Also, the Altima line at the Smyrna plant, which last year ranked No. 1 at 15.33 labor hours per vehicle, scored 16.10 hours per vehicle in this year's report. Yet the Altima, Maxima and Xterra SUV lines at Smyrna placed among the top 10 assembly plants in hours per vehicle.
Nissan minimized damage to its performance by not having its Canton, Miss., assembly plant participate in the study. The Canton plant was a sore spot for Nissan as its products -- the Quest minivan, Titan pickup and Pathfinder Armada SUV -- were beset with quality problems. Nissan sent 200 engineers from Japan to the plant to fix the problems.
Big 3 bunch up
In the overall labor measurement, the Big 3 scored within 2.6 labor hours per vehicle of each other -- ranging from 34.33 hours for GM to 36.9 hours for Ford Motor Co. Both Ford and DaimlerChrysler AGs Chrysler group improved their total hours-per-vehicle score 4.2 percent from last year, while GM's score improved 2.5 percent.
GMs and Fords performance in the study would have been even better if their production volume in 2004 had stayed the same as 2003, Harbour said.
Its impressive that they made the gains they did with lower volumes, he said.
Over the past three years, DaimlerChrysler's total hours score on the report has improved 19 percent. And the automaker's Belvidere, Ill., plant broke into the list of top 10 vehicle assembly plants. The plant, which builds the Dodge Neon car and is preparing to convert to a five-door vehicle that will replace the Neon, ranked No. 7 on the list.
"Unlike its past recoveries, Chrysler is making broad improvements that permeate beyond manufacturing," Harbour said. "This will provide more consistency in future market fluctuations."
Among average assembly plant productivity per company, the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif., was number 1 at 21.78 hours per vehicle, down 0.6 percent from last year's report. The plant is a joint venture between GM and Toyota.
GM ranked second in average assembly plant productivity by company at 23.09 hours per vehicle. Four of the top 10 assembly plants were GM plants.
GM and NUMMI scored better than the industry average of 23.42 assembly hours per vehicle, according to Harbour.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s decline in sales hurt the productivity score of its plant in Normal, Ill., which ranked last among company averages. The plant saw its labor hours per vehicle jump 17.5 percent from last year's report to 29.89 hours per vehicle.
Nissan, Toyota and Honda were not included in the rankings of assembly productivity due to the partial participation of their assembly plants. The average scores for each automaker from plants that did participate would have ranked all three ahead of the NUMMI plant.
Toyota tops in stamping, engines
The Harbour Report also measures productivity at stamping and engine building operations. Toyota shines in both areas.
Toyota led in stamping productivity at 1.37 hours per vehicle, a 28.3 percent gain from last year's report. Harbour noted that Toyota got a report-record 775 average parts per hour from its stamping operations.
Toyota's four-cylinder engine plant in Buffalo, W.Va., was top-ranked in the report, needing only 1.88 labor hours per engine. But GM had four engine plants ranked in the report's top 10, with the Tonawanda, N.Y., plant ranked No. 3, and the Spring Hill, Tenn., plant at No. 4.
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