Magazine article Management Today

A Performance That Indicates a Real Shop Floor Revolution

Magazine article Management Today

A Performance That Indicates a Real Shop Floor Revolution

Article excerpt

British car plants can be competitive with the best on the Continent. Roger Eglin

It was a hard, relentless and frightening year, one that raised the spectre of the 1930s depression. And if the forecasters are only half right, 1993 will bring no more than the first glimmerings of recovery. Yet there were some important signs as the year closed that not all the gains the British economy made in the 1980s had been surrendered to recession.

The best news came from Louis Hughes, the president of GM Europe (see also Management, p24), when he announced that Vauxhall's car assembly plants at Luton and Ellesmere Port were among his company's |lowest cost plants in Europe'. Since devaluation, Ellesmere Port had been turning out Vauxhall Astra's for a remarkable [pounds] 364.30 per car less than the same model coming off the assembly lines in GMs German and Belgium plants.

For years efficiency comparisons between German and British car plants have been embarrassing. To hear that the performance of British plants has drawn ahead is nothing if not an indication of a shop floor revolution.

It would be no surprise to hear that Nissan's Sunderland plant is one of the most efficient in the world. Sunderland is a new plant with a hand-picked labour force and no history of labour-management confrontation. Ellesmere Port and Luton could not be more different. Both are old plants, operating within a traditional union framework and both have seen their fair share of disputes. The message is clear: given good management and successful products, even once indifferent British plants can be competitive with the best on the Continent.

Nor is the success story merely a spin-off from devaluation. GM's European bosses say the Luton plant assembling the Cavalier had established a significant cost advantage over its German counter-part, Russelsheim near Frankfurt, before devaluation. The German workforce had been told that a Cavalier/Opel from Russelsheim was costing DM750 more than one from Luton.

Productivity is still behind at the British plants but the gap is closing. However, labour costs are lower and 21 quality levels are as good as those on the Continent. …

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