Ford's State-of-the-Art Factory in Brazil: A Model for the Big 3's Survival. But The UAW Hates It.
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.
"South America is kind of the global sandbox for a lot of automakers to try out new methods," said Michael Robinet, vice president of global vehicle forecasts for CSM Worldwide. "Ford was able to think out of the box, and it's paying off for them."
Unlike many U.S. auto plants, where workers' responsibilities are strictly limited to specific job classifications, workers are encouraged to learn as many different skills as possible.
Watch a fascinating video here of Ford's Camaçari plant.
So who could possibly object to having the most advanced, leanest, most flexible, state-of-the-art Ford facilities like the Camaçari plant built here in the U.S., especially if it could help Ford and GM survive and become more profitable?
Ford sources said it is the sort of plant the company wants in the United States, were it not for the United Auto Workers, which has historically opposed such extensive supplier integration on the factory floor.
MP: It's not just above-market UAW wages and benefits, along with overly generous lifetime pensions and health care coverage that have all contributed to pushing the Big Three to the brink of bankruptcy. It's also the outdated work rules, multiple job classifications, and union inflexibility and resistance to greater efficiency that have crippled the Big Three (see the 22 pound, 2,215 page UAW-Ford contract here).
Isn't it sad that U.S. automakers like Ford have to go 5,000 miles away to "the global sandbox" Brazil to try out new production methods, instead of introducing cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technology here in the U.S.? Even if GM and Chrysler reduce wages and benefits to competitive levels as part of the $17.4 billion bailout, they still might not survive in the long run if they are prevented by the UAW from introducing lean, flexible, state-of-the-art technology inside the U.S., like Ford has been able to introduce outside of the U.S.
(A version of this post appeared on 5/11/08.)