Tag Archives: cars

Looking at Auto Manaufacturing in the USA

America’s Dirty War Against Manufacturing

Bob Lutz, the former head of GM, says it was neither uncompetitive wages nor unions that drove the Big Three into decline. It was a management with its eye focused on the bottom line and the short term.

That sentiment should be familiar to students of Deming (it is one of Deming’s 7 deadly diseases). It is sad that this bad management practices, short-term thinking, continues to do harm several decades later. Hopefully we can do better in the next few decades.

retiree health care and pensions — burdens that are borne by society, not manufacturing plants, in every other advanced country. That disparity, the result of policy decisions made in Washington rather than wages negotiated by the United Auto Workers, was the source of most of the labor-cost advantage enjoyed by foreign companies.

The excessive health care costs in the USA, another of Deming’s 7 deadly diseases, has continued to get worse every year since he classified it as one. The damage that the failed health care system in the USA does to the USA is enormous.

Related: Manufacturing Skills Gap or Management Skills Gap?Manufacturing in the USA, and Why Organizations Often Don’tBig Failed Three, Meet the Enlightened Eight

Penske to Buy Saturn from GM

Penske to Buy Saturn from GM

“When Saturn launched in the 1980s, it was the new, new thing, with the best dealer service and no-haggle pricing that put customers at ease,” said independent marketing consultant Dennis Keene. “But in recent years, it has just been another GM division, operating the same as Chevy or Pontiac, with nothing to differentiate it and a marketing message that keeps changing, so that people haven’t been able to get a handle on what the brand is supposed to be.”

First off, he won’t own any manufacturing plants. Saturn will continue to buy today’s vehicles from GM for at least two years. Penske will talk to other auto manufacturers in Europe and Asia about supplying new products after that. “We are going to be a sales, service, and marketing company, not an OEM [original equipment manufacturer],” he said. Eventually, Penske explained, he wants at least some Saturn vehicles to once again be manufactured in the U.S., though that may not be the case in the short run after the agreement with GM runs out.

I thought Saturn was the worst management failure at GM, among many (NUMMI, and GM’s Failure to Manage Effectively, for example). They really did some great things early on with rethinking the system of manufacturing and selling cars. But GM failed to take care of the innovative division. I hoped that Saturn would gain a new, better, management that build Saturn toward the potential it has. Contracting out manufacturing however, is a horrible idea, I believe. Unfortunately I think this ends the hope for a great Saturn.

Saturn still have the potential to do ok, given how bad the dealership experience is for most other companies. The dealer experience, even for Toyota and Lexus is still not at all congruous with the customer focus principles of lean (for example, motivating sales people to make as bad a deal for customers as they can – paying them more the more they get for the dealership at the expense of the customer). And other car companies have quite a bit to learn from the sales practices of Saturn and Car Max.

Related: Big Failed Three, Meet the Successful EightHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every YearPeople: Team Members or CostsInvest in New Management Methods Not a Failing Company, 1986

NUMMI, and GM’s Failure to Manage Effectively

Gipsie Ranney recently sent me an article on her thoughts on NUMMI and the current problems with the Big Three car makers to post to the Curious Cat Management Improvement Library. NUMMI is the plant that Toyota and General Motors run together as a joint venture. The article is excellent.

The answer to a question asked by someone else on the tour was stunning to me. The person asked what kind of computerized inventory system they had at NUMMI. The leader of the tour at the time – a materials management person – responded, “we don’t have one; the Japanese say that computerized inventory systems lie.”

The most remarkable insight I gained at NUMMI came as an answer to a question from a member of the touring group. The person asked what had been learned about the reasons that management/labor conflict had been reduced so much. The tour guide answered, “The answer we get from members of the labor force is that the Japanese do what they say they will do.” This was the same labor force that had held the record for most grievances filed per year in an assembly plant in the U.S.

The Big Three are responsible for managing their organizations wisely. I think that will take more than money. It will take a different culture and a different mind.

I agree. The problem is that management fails to manage well and has been failing to do so for decades. They have improved over the last few decades but not nearly fast or consistently enough. Gipsie worked closely with Dr. Deming and serves on the W. Edwards Deming Institute Board of Trustees.

Related: Could Toyota Fix GM (2005)At Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980sBig Failed Three, Meet the Successful EightWhy Fix the Escalator?Invest in New Management Methods Not a Failing Company (AMC) by William Hunter, 1986 – Ford and Managing the Supplier RelationshipNo Excessive Senior Executive Pay at Toyota

Big Failed Three, Meet the Successful Eight

Big Three, Meet the “Little Eight”

The 1,300-acre plant, in which Toyota has invested $5.3 billion, produces a car roughly every minute. Georgetown’s population has doubled. In fields where farmers once grew tobacco and raised cattle, McMansions, apartment complexes, and condominiums have sprouted. A 150,000-square-foot upscale retail center is rising near the Toyota plant, the better to serve its 7,000 employees.

In San Antonio, the Toyota Tundra plant lay idle for three months this fall, though Toyota hasn’t laid off anyone. Instead, according to Richard Perez, president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Toyota offered the city “a whole bunch of folks who need to get busy.” (San Antonio put them to work on beautification projects.) Of course, Toyota has resources to act in a more paternalistic manner – in part because the parent companies aren’t saddled with the burdens of providing health care and retirement for workers in home markets.

This is not behaving in a paternalistic manner, this is behaving in an honorable manner with the other long term stakeholders that have a shared interest in the long term success of the company. When managers and executives do their jobs the company will succeed in good times and have a plan for bad times and will deal effectively with obvious long term issues. Health care costs, pensions costs, and bad labor-management relations have been obvious critical issues to solve for GM, Ford and Chrysler for decades. The pathetic job those 3 have done with those, and other issues (they still don’t understand how to work with suppliers, how to stop the obsessive focus on quarterly profits, how to demand honorable behavior [not looting] from senior executives…), lead to their current situation.

The poor economy leads the the situation you now see with Toyota and Honda: profits being cut, having to put in place plans to retain employees while they are not needed to produce output today, etc.. You don’t see companies needing billions to survive a few months unless they were incredibly poorly lead. And those leading them were paid many times more than those that led Toyota and Honda. They have had decades to act responsibly. They have failed. And there failure will be felt by those that enabled them to take huge pay packages that were not warranted. They should be ashamed.
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Honda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every Year

Engineers Rule, 2006

Longtime auto analyst John Casesa, who now runs a consulting company, says, “There’s not a company on earth that better understands the culture of engineering.” The strategy has worked thus far. Honda has never had an unprofitable year. It has never had to lay off employees.

The lean and compact Fukui, like all of his predecessors, is an engineer who started in R&D and later ran the subsidiary. While other auto chief-executives-to-be were punching keyboards in an accounting office, Fukui ran the company’s motorcycle racing operations. He’s still racing. He hikes the stairs to his tenth-floor desk–tenth floor so he’s in the middle of things at Honda’s 16-story Tokyo headquarters and a desk because executives at Honda don’t have offices. Honda doesn’t disclose executive pay in detail, but the sum of salaries and bonuses that Fukui shares with 36 board members, $13 million, is just about enough for the boss at a big American company.

I checked and Honda was also profitable in 2007 and 2008 fiscal year (ending in September) and no I see no evidence of any layoffs this year (when I look online).

Related: Honda EngineeringBack to School for Honda Workers, 1993The Google Way: Give Engineers RoomGoogle’s Ten Golden RulesToyota as HomebuilderCurious Cat Science and Engineering BlogToyota’s CEO pay under $1 million

Of all the bizarre subsidiaries that big companies can find themselves with, Harmony Agricultural Products, founded and owned by Honda Motor, is one of the strangest. This small company near Marysville, Ohio produces soybeans for tofu. Soybeans? Honda couldn’t brook the sight of the shipping containers that brought parts from Japan to its nearby auto factories returning empty. So Harmony now ships 33,000 pounds of soybeans to Japan. An inveterate tinkerer, Honda also set up a center nearby to develop better soybean varieties and improve agricultural processes.

Invest in New Management Methods Not a Failing Company, 1986

Invest in New Management Methods Not a Failing Company by William Hunter, 1986

I predict American Motors will stop making cars in Wisconsin in the near future, whether or not the state’s money is used for a temporary propping-up operation.

These competitors are beginning to understand how essential it is to take a long-term view of their businesses. Toyota, for example, took its top 40 managers on a two-day retreat to ponder what their corporation will look like in the 21st century. They are studying totally new methods of management [20 years later large portions of these “new” methods are still ignored by many – John]. These methods take continuous quality improvement as a central, guiding principle.

Investing in American Motors now, in any form, is a mistake. If Wisconsin is to become a trend-setter in economic development, we need some long-term thinking in forming wise, creative policies.
It is difficult, I know, for legislators and other elected officials to take a long-term view when the tangible reward is re-election and elections come around quite frequently.
Our founding fathers are remembered for their long-term vision. We need to change the way our democracy works so that long-term visions is an integral part of all important discussions on economic development on the local, state and national level.

Don’t reward shortsightedness by James Cook

In 1985 I assumed the role of plant manager of one of the world’s foremost automotive tool manufacturers in a small northern Iowa town. It was then that I was introduced to W. Edwards Deming. At the time, the company had a greater market share than any of its individual domestic or foreign competitors, but ominous and encroaching signs from abroad began to threaten its pre-eminence in the automotive aftermarket. So steps had to be taken to arrest this incursion that could mean the end of its reign.

It was then, as I began my tenure at the company, that we began with Deming’s concept of Statistical Process Control, later changed to Quality Control, and the practice of Toyota’s kanban cell manufacturing techniques that would enhance the already high-quality standards that had defined the company for decades.

If we had listened, if we had followed him, if we had incorporated his thinking not only in the automobile industry but in government, in the ubiquitous economy collapsing around us and in our private lives, we would now be far better for it.

Related: At Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980sFord’s Wrong TurnCould Toyota Fix GM (2005)Ford and Managing the Supplier RelationshipNo Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaCreating Jobs

Ford’s Camaçari Plant in Brazil

photo of Fords' Camacari plant in Brazil

Brazil’s Camaçari plant is model for the future

This state-of-the-art manufacturing complex in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia is not only the centerpiece of Ford’s Brazilian turnaround plan, it is also one of the most advanced automobile plants in the world. It is more automated than many of Ford’s U.S. factories, and leaner and more flexible than any other Ford facility. It can produce five different vehicle platforms at the same time and on the same line.

At Camaçari, more than two dozen suppliers operate right inside the Ford complex, in many cases producing components alongside Ford’s main production line. Having those supplier operations on-site allows Ford to take the concept of just-in-time manufacturing to a whole new level. Inventories are kept to a bare minimum, or dispensed with entirely. Components such as dashboard assemblies flow directly into the main Ford assembly line at the precise point and time they are needed.

Unlike many U.S. auto plants, where workers’ responsibilities are strictly limited to specific job classifications, workers like Silva dos Santos are encouraged to learn as many different skills as possible.

Here is an interesting video on the plant. It is sad how poor management at GM, Ford and Chrysler has created such a bad situation for those working at those companies, their suppliers, the communities that support their production… GM and Ford had the advice they needed to succeed from Deming in the 1980’s but they chose to focus on the short term, large executive payments, accounting gimmicks instead of continual improvement…

They each have improved over the years, but the standard is not just improving but doing so effectively and enough and they failed at that. The UAW shares some responsibility for failing to successfully lead their workers to a promising future but management is much more responsible for the failure in my opinion (the video and article try to say Ford wants to be innovative in the USA but the UAW won’t let them). It is management’s jobs to focus the organization on cooperation and success for all stakeholders. When management is more concerned with getting themselves huge payoffs (from the pockets of the other stakeholders) and then try to blame one of those other stakeholders for fighting management is disingenuous. Executive’s contempt for other stakeholders leads to the other stakeholders feeling that they should be just as greedy as management.

Related: Ford’s Wrong TurnFord and Managing the Supplier RelationshipGlobal Manufacturing Data 2007Toyota’s New Texas PlantWomack Podcast on GMVW Phaeton Manufacturing plant
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Outsourcing To America

Outsourcing To America

Toyota (TM) began operating in North America in the mid-1980s. It currently operates seven automotive plants there, four of which are in the U.S. A fifth plant is under production in Mississippi. Toyota employs 40,000 manufacturing employees in North America.

In addition to the manufacture of cars and trucks, Toyota runs four unit factories in the U.S., where they produce such parts as engines, transmissions and wheels. Toyota also has a wholly owned subsidiary, Bodine Aluminum, an aluminum casting company, which operates three factories in Tennessee and Missouri.

BMW began operations in the U.S. in 1994, when it opened a plant in Spartanburg, S.C. “Some natural hedging was always a part of the long-term strategy, but also we have a corporate strategy of having production follow the market,” says Robert Hitt, BMW’s manager of public affairs. “Our original plan was to have about 2,000 workers here by the year 2000. We are now at 5,400 people here on the site.”

Besides the actual manufacturing of their cars and trucks, Toyota and BMW are using domestic suppliers to provide parts and services for their operations. BMW has over 200 suppliers in North America, 52 of which are located in South Carolina, and 41 of these are new companies started for the purpose of supplying the plant. In South Carolina alone, suppliers of BMW’s Spartanburg plant employ over 14,000 people.

Toyota uses roughly 500 major suppliers in North America. “We’ve always had the philosophy that we should build vehicles where they are sold, so it makes sense to have suppliers close to your manufacturing operations,” says Mike Goss, external affairs manager for Toyota’s engineering and manufacturing division in North America.

Foreign production in the U.S., however, is not limited to the automotive industry…. In fact, almost 1 million Americans get their paychecks from Mexican companies, says Ton Heijmen, senior adviser for outsourcing and offshoring for the Conference Board.

Related: Top 10 Manufacturing Countries 2006Moving Jobs to Silicon Valley from IndiaGlobal Manufacturing Jobs DataToyota in the United States of America EconomyChina Outsourcing Manufacturing to USA

Deming Auto Repair

Here is an interesting example of an auto repair shop applying Deming’s ideas, AGCO Automotive in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

In this section we hope to present our business philosophy, through a series of articles written by president Louis Altazan. Our strategy of continual improvement is based on the work of Dr. W. Edwards Deming and has been incredibly successful for us. There is nothing we enjoy more than discussing our methods and invite all questions and comments.

The site includes several interesting articles including, Motivating Our Staff:

Clients often ask how we motivate our staff members. The answer is simple, we don’t. We feel good people are already motivated, what they need is removal of the things that de-motivate them

I also believe this is a far superior state with regard to production, quality, efficiency and human relations than the one that commonly exist in the incentive driven system. It requires management that trust people to do what is best, rather than rely on a system of punishment and reward. It requires management that trust its own ability to share vision and remove obstacles to joy in work. Management’s job shifts from a controller of reward to a leader of an inwardly motivated team of people.

Related: Deming CompaniesStop De-motivating EmployeesDeming Management ThoughtsAt Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980s
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