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
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own