For the second year in a row, three metro Toledo automotive plants have been recognized as the most productive factories in North America in their respective categories.
But don't look for any big celebrations: they're not allowed to tell anybody they won.
According to union officials, Chrysler Group LLC's Toledo Jeep factory that makes Jeep Wranglers again posted the highest productivity of any assembly plant in North America as measured by Oliver Wyman's Harbour Report, a widely respected annual industry study of manufacturing operations.
General Motors Co.'s Toledo Powertrain plant was named the most productive transmission plant on the continent for the fourth time in the last six years, and the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance plant in Dundee won the productivity award for engine plants, union officials said.
That means they bested their competition from Toyota Motor
Corp., Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., and other automakers with plants in the United States and Canada.
The report is considered vital to managers and workers at the factories because it is used by the corporations in deciding where to put new work.
Last year, officials of the communities with the three northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan plants that won their respective categories touted the results because it was the first time any single metro area had won three of the four annual productivity awards. The fourth category is for automotive stamping, which the Toledo area no longer has.
Local economic development officials have cited the awards as proof to prospective new employers that metro Toledo's work force is a valuable asset.
But this year, the owners of the Harbour Report refused to take the results public and severely restricted - under threat of legal action - how much information participating automakers could reveal about even their own performance, let alone those of their competitors.
So when the automakers learned the results of this year's report this summer, they couldn't say anything about how they did compared to their foreign and domestic peers - and still can't.
A Chrysler spokesman yesterday would only say that the Toledo Jeep Wrangler plant used 12.69 man-hours of labor to produce the sport utility vehicles made there in 2008.
That was an improvement over the prior year's figure of 13.57 hours-per-vehicle. Counted separately, and the results were not immediately known, is the next-door factory that makes Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro vehicles.
The spokesman said the Dundee engine plant, run by Chrysler, took 1.79 hours to produce each engine last year, better than the 1.84 hours the year before.
At Toledo Powertrain, workers needed 2.28 hours to build each transmission during 2008, better than the 2.37 hours needed during 2007, according to a GM spokesman.
The awards were quietly disclosed to the car companies during an unprecedented time in the North American auto industry. Chrysler and GM each went through lightning-fast bankruptcy reorganizations and auto sales overall fell to their lowest levels in decades, hurting domestic and foreign automakers.
Keeping this year's Harbour Report private "was a decision that all the manufacturers made this year in light of last year's downturn," said Oliver Wyman spokesman Michelle Hill.
Those claiming top honors in the categories are to receive their awards next week, officials said.
"It's not something we celebrated a lot around here with everything that's going on, but it's still an accomplishment," said Ray Wood, president of United Auto Workers Local 14.
The union represents hourly employees - both laid-off and working - at GM's Toledo Powertrain plant.
"Nobody's ever walked onto a car lot and asked how the plant where that vehicle was made did on the Harbour Report," said Dan Henneman, Jeep unit chairman for UAW Local 12.
"Customers care about quality," more than they do productivity.
But productivity measures - like those from a respected outside consultant - do count when automakers are trying to decide where and how to build new products, as Chrysler's new partner, Italian automaker Fiat SpA, is doing right now.
"You live or die based on your productivity numbers, without a doubt. It's a cold, hard fact of life in the 21st century," said Joseph Phillippi, a longtime industry analyst with AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J.
"Productivity is going to be crucially important over the next several years given that we have an awful lot of excess capacity globally, and an awful lot of excess capacity is going to have to come out. This will help plants live."
That may mean good things long term for local auto workers, even if they are being asked to produce more in less time and with fewer defects than ever before, Mr. Phillippi said.
"It doesn't surprise me," that the Toledo Wrangler plant was again named North America's most productive assembly plant, said UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower.
"They do a great job over there, and I know that Fiat has noticed that, too. I think this bodes well for us in our efforts to bring Fiat work here."
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:
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