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Published: Monday, 6/4/2007

Best in the biz

IT'S nice to be No. 1. And being ranked first among transmission plants in North America is no small feat for General Motors Corp.'s Powertrain factory in Toledo. For the last two years the honor had bypassed workers at the Alexis Road plant after they had held it for five straight years.

But they were determined to regain their top place this year. And they did, despite corporate-wide job cuts, including about 1,300 lost at the Powertrain plant through buyouts or early retirements. "We're proud of our membership and everything we've been able to accomplish under great difficulty," said Ray Wood, president of UAW Local 14 at the plant.

According to the Harbour Report, a closely watched rating of manufacturing productivity, the Toledo plant is the No. 1 producer among all transmission facilities. It can build a rear-wheel-drive transmission every 2.54 hours, compared to 2.8 hours a year ago.

That was also the time of a Chrysler plant in Indiana that used to hold the highest productivity title. GM says improved productivity at its Toledo plant means more efficient operations and a higher-quality product.

Harbour analyst Greg Gardner notes the impressive strides the company has made in just the consistency of the manufacturing. "It's very standardized, much, much more so than five years ago," he said.

Area engine plants also turned in respectable performances, with Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance in Dundee, a joint-venture operation involving DaimlerChrysler AG, ranking third, its first ever rating. The Ford Motor Co. Lima plant ranked sixth overall but first in its V-6 category.

The Toledo Jeep Assembly complex slipped in the productivity ratings, which was not entirely unexpected. Initial production drops are typical when a plant launches new products and Jeep launched two last year.

The automaker also took the novel approach of sharing on-site operations with three suppliers, which no doubt challenged productivity at the outset. But give it time and Jeep will surely build a better rank for itself.

For now it's Powertrain's turn to gloat, and deservedly so.

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