Sunderland shows you can with a Nissan

News Analysis: Rover isn't the only car maker lagging behind Japanese efficiency

NISSAN'S SUNDERLAND car plant has reinforced its position as the most productive in Europe, producing three times as many vehicles per employee as Rover's Longbridge factory in Birmingham.

The manufacturing workforce of just under 2,800 at Sunderland produced 98 cars per employee last year compared with the 33 cars produced by each member of Longbridge's 10,000 workforce.

Analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit lends support to claims by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, that the recent job losses announced by Rover had less to do with the strong pound and more to do with increasing productivity.

The Sunderland plant, built in 1985, is one-fifth more productive than its nearest European rival, General Motors' Eisenach factory in east Germany. It is also more efficient than any car plant in North America and better than most factories in Japan, according to the EIU's global audit.

Only two other UK car plants feature in the European top 10 and one is another Japanese factory - Honda's at Swindon.

There's better news for workers at Ford's Dagenham plant in Essex. According to the EIU, this is now the most productive Ford plant in Europe, producing 62 cars per man a year compared with 59 at its Saarlouis factory in Germany. This is one of the two Ford plants on the Continent selected in preference to Halewood to build the successor to the Escort.

Ian Robertson of the EIU said the main message from the annual audit was that, while Japanese car plants remained in the lead, European manufacturers were closing the gap. In 1996 only two European car plants produced more than 70 cars per employee. Last year that figure rose to four.

But the gulf between Nissan and the chasing pack has widened: Nissan has improved from 73 to 98 cars per employee, with its nearest rival, Eisenach, going from 70 to 77.

"In Japan, there is greater emphasis on producing cars that are simpler and therefore quicker to build," said Mr Robertson. "That means concentrating on getting the design and manufacturing processes right first time so less time is spent rectifying defects."

Analysis for the Treasury by management consultants McKinsey shows that UK productivity lags 40 per cent behind that of the US and is at least 20 per cent behind western Germany. Productivity in the UK automotive industry is half that in Japan and 20 per cent below that of the US, says McKinsey.

A spokesman for Rover, which blamed the strength of sterling for 1,500 job losses, said it was misleading to compare Longbridge's performance in 1997 with other plants because of the number of different cars and niche models produced there. Last year Longbridge was producing the Rover 100, 200 and 400 as well as the MGF sports car and limited production models such as the Rover 200 coupe and cabriolet and the Rover 400 Tourer.

"We have made major strides, improving productivity across the group by 19 per cent in the last two years," the spokesman said. "We want to do better but we think we are doing quite well already. We are also investing pounds 600m a year, which will undoubtedly increase levels of productivity."

In the past, manufacturers such as Ford and Rover have complained that comparisons with Japanese transplant factories in Europe are unfair because these are "screwdriver" assembly plants which lack the full range of processes.

However, Nissan's Sunderland plant and Volkswagen's Wolfsburg plant in Germany, which makes the Golf, are now considered to be the two most integrated car plants in Europe. The Sunderland plant made a record 271,800 Primeras and Micras in 1997 and production is set to exceed 280,000 this year.

The EIU's audit is designed to produce like-for-like comparisons, and includes workers employed in press shop, body-in-white, paint shop, trim and final assembly and rectification.

Sunderland also houses an engine assembly and machining shop, an aluminium foundry making cylinder heads and exhaust manifolds and a plastics moulding shop.

The EIU audit does not take into account model changeovers which can affect productivity significantly. Honda's Swindon plant has slipped from fourth to seventh this year, while Toyota's Burnaston factory has gone from third to 12th. The survey attributes this to model changes and the need to take on extra, untrained employees for the next phase of expansion.

However, Mr Robertson says model changeovers can be opportunities to introduce major productivity gains. For instance the Ford Ka, made in Valencia, is put together from 1,200 components compared to the 3,000 in a Dagenham-built Fiesta.

Longbridge's productivity is expected to improve this year due to the workforce cuts and the phase-out of the Rover 100.

But the EIU says GM's Vauxhall plant at Luton, which produces the Vectra, has failed to reach its expected output.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us