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.

footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
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

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Day In a Page

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference