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Published: Friday, 6/3/2005

Productivity up at Toledo Jeep, GM

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

DaimlerChrysler AG hasn't won the productivity battle among compact sport-utility vehicle factories with Jeep Libertys and Wranglers, but its Kokomo, Ind., transmission plant knocked General Motors Corp.'s Toledo Powertrain off of its long-held throne, according to a closely watched industry report.

The city's Toledo Jeep Assembly factories and the GM plant improved in productivity last year from 2003, the Harbour Consulting report released yesterday shows.

But Toledo Powertrain was second-best among transmission plants in North America making a rear-wheel drive unit, bumping it out of the top spot held for five years straight.

The Toledo North Assembly Plant, where Libertys are made, was No. 3 and Jeep Parkway and Stickney Avenue factories, where Wranglers are made, was No. 4 among six compact sport-utility vehicle assembly plants, Harbour said.

It took Toledo Powertrain workers 2.98 hours to build each transmission, down from 3.11 hours in 2003 but six minutes behind Chrysler's Kokomo factory.

That created disappointment at the Alexis Road plant.

"Of course, we want to win because that's bragging rights," said Oscar Bunch, president of United Auto Workers Local 14, which represents hourly workers at Toledo Powertrain. "But an improvement is good."

He added: "We've certainly got a lot to be proud of here."

Overall in the industry, Toyota Motor Corp. led the manufacturing pack among automakers, giving it an advantage of $350 to $500 a vehicle over the Big Three, according to Harbour.

But the performance gap between the Japanese manufacturers and the domestic Big Three is narrowing, the report shows.

At 27.9 total hours per vehicle, Toyota's assembly, stamping, and powertrain factories improved by 5.5 percent last year over 2003, the Troy, Mich., firm said. Ford Motor Co. spent 37 hours. The nine-hour difference is down from a 16-hour difference between the two companies in 1998, the report said.

Chrysler, meanwhile, has shown the most improvement among automakers over the last three years with a 19 percent gain. The automaker's assembly, stamping, and powertrain factories took 35.85 hours for each vehicle last year, a 4 percent improvement over 2003, the report said.

Of the Big Three, though, GM performed the best last year at 34.33 hours a vehicle overall.

GM's Oshawa, Ontario, factory where Chevrolet Impalas and Monte Carlos are built won the title of most productive assembly plant in North America last year, taking 15.85 hours to make each car. The automaker led in eight of 14 vehicle-assembly categories.

Chrysler, for the first time, had an assembly plant in the top 10 of the Harbour study. Workers at the Belvidere, Ill, factory took 18.71 hours last year to build Dodge Neons, giving the factory a No. 7 ranking among all assembly plants.

At Toledo Jeep, it took workers 20.62 hours to build each Liberty, down from 21.73 hours in 2003, and 21.95 hours to build each Wrangler, down from 23.08 hours.

Among all 20 SUV factories in the study, the Liberty plant was ranked No. 4 and the Wrangler's, which is to be replaced next year as part of a $2.1 billion expansion, was No. 8.

Toledo Jeep can be commended for improving despite launching the extended Wrangler Unlimited model last year, said Michelle Hill, senior manager at Harbour Consulting.

"There is definitely room for improvement," she added.

Neither Chrysler spokesman Ed Saenz nor Dan Henneman, chairman of Local 12's Jeep unit, returned calls seeking comment.

Ford's engine plant in Lima, Ohio, had the fourth most improved model in its V-8 category, but still ranked last. It had a 12.5 percent improvement at 13.15 hours to make an engine.

The Lima factory's V-6 engine line again ranked second among eight plants in its six-cylinder category, with workers taking 3.77 hours to build one last year, up from 3.69 hours in 2003.

Although not all of the foreign automakers provide efficiency information on all of their North American plants, Harbour estimates that Nissan Motor Co. had the most profit per vehicle built in North America last year at $1,603, according to Bloomberg News Service.

Next was Toyota's $1,488 and Honda Motor Co.'s $1,250. Ford had a profit of $620 per vehicle and Chrysler's was $186. GM lost $2,311 a vehicle.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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