INGERSOLL, Ontario -- Robert Parcell, the new president of CAMI Automotive Inc., has small plans for the General Motors-Suzuki Motor Corp. joint-venture assembly plant here. But given the huge changes at CAMI during the past 2½ years, that may not be a bad thing.
For most of its existence, CAMI has been a small-time player among the New American Manufacturers. Key to that was product. CAMI, which opened in 1989, was designed to build small cars and SUVs, not the big sport-utes and crossovers the public craved.
"CAMI floundered from the product perspective for a number of years," says analyst Dennis Des-Rosiers, of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. in Thornhill, Ontario.
If you visited the plant four years ago, you would have noticed that nearly half of CAMI's production space was left idle. By 2002 CAMI's capacity utilization rate was about 40 percent.
Things have changed. Plant officials held a press event outside the plant last year because the inside "was full of equipment," according to a local newspaper.
CAMI's transformation began in 2003 when GM said it would build a new vehicle, the Chevrolet Equinox crossover. The decision required a massive overhaul to make the plant more flexible. The price: $500 million.
In January 2004, CAMI ripped out a traditional fixed assembly line that had been idle since 2001 and replaced it with a conveyor system from Spanish company Tracoinsa. The system raises and lowers vehicle height, depending on the job, to improve manufacturing flexibility.
At the same time, CAMI moved some assembly work outside the plant. According to the 2005 Harbour Report, 16 component subassemblies are delivered to the plant in sequence from outside suppliers.
One key module is the en-gine/transmission. Engines from GM's Shanghai factory arrive by ship in Vancouver, British Columbia, or Seattle and are loaded onto trains for delivery outside Toronto. From there they are trucked to an Autrans Corp. plant. The plant, surrounded by cornfields, is a five-minute drive from CAMI, about 140 miles northeast of Detroit.
Autrans installs the radiator and some filters and attaches the transmission, which arrives via the same ship-rail-truck route from Aisin Seiki Co. Ltd. in Japan. The modules are shipped on a just-in-time basis to CAMI.
These changes helped dramatically lower the time it takes to build a vehicle - from 35.74 hours in 2003 to 23.88 in 2004. The improvement was the best of any plant in last year's Harbour Report.