Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Comparing Factory Tours for GM, Ford and Toyota

The machine of a dream
Such a clean machine
With the pistons a pumpin'
And the hub caps all gleam
--- Queen (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
Vehicle factory tours make an interesting outing. We've visited:
  • Bowling Green, Kentucky: Chevrolet Corvette
  • Dearborn, Michigan: Ford F-Series trucks
  • Cambridge, Ontario: Toyota Corolla, Matrix and Lexus RX350
The Corvette Tour [July 2003]
Isn't the Corvette America's sports car? They are made exclusively here. The Corvette tour is the most interactive, emotional and personal. Aficionados connect with a Corvette in a way that a Corolla can't inspire. Some visitors arrived in Corvettes and most probably wanted one.

Corvette uses the fewest robots, which means you get to see humans at work. One car takes 35-40 hours to make. That's about 35,000 cars per year.

Unfortunately, quality suffers. About 5% of the vehicles have defects. We saw a car into which water leaked during the "car wash". Since each vehicle is made for a specific customer, this is especially disappointing. At Toyota, there are virtually no defects.

The tour guides were volunteers. The highlight is when the fiberglass body is attached to the rest of the vehicle. Workers smile and wave. Two lucky children were able to sit in a nearly finished Corvette. We were given key rings as souvenirs.

Our trip ended up in a hospital getting treated for food poisoning by a doctor wearing sandals. That's a tale for another time.

The F-150 Tour [Mar 2006]
In the US, trucks rules. The F-Series has been the best selling vehicle in the US for the last 24 years. In 2006, sales were 796,039 compared 448, 445 for the best selling car, the Camry. Dearborn is where the F-Series is made. This is Ford's largest, employing 100,000 in the 1930s, down to 6,000 now.

This tour is at your own pace. You watch from a floor above the factory floor. You're limited in what you see. Only 30% of the visitors parked near us drove Fords, and very few had pickup trucks.

The Toyota Tour [Mar 2007]
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) makes the Corolla, Matrix and Lexus RX350 in Cambridge, an hour west of Toronto. The Woodstock plant opening in 2008 will be called TMMC West and make the RAV4.

Previously, the Toyota tour was restricted to groups. Now families can attend. Only 30% of visitors arrived in Toyotas.

What can you say about Toyota?
  • the pioneers in Just In Time manufacturing
  • believers in continuous improvement ("kaizen")? Last year, factory workers (called "Team Members") made 10,000 suggestions and 95% were implemented.
  • workers can --- and are expected to --- stop the line is any defects are found
The plant covers 3 million square feet and cost $3 billion. There's considerable automation. Robots make about 83% of a Corolla (best selling car of all time) or Matrix, and about 94% of a RX350. There's still plenty for humans to do. There are usually 4,200 - 4,400 workers but there are currently 5,000 because of training for the upcoming Woodstock plant. Over 300,000 vehicles are made here each year --- 1,100 - 1,400 per day (including 300 Lexuses). One vehicle takes 18-21 hours to make. That's about twice as fast as a Corvette. One vehicle comes off the assembly line each minute.

In comparison, this factory showed the best teamwork and won the most awards. Maybe that's why this is the only Lexus plant outside of Japan.

See For Yourself
If you take a factory tour, please share your experiences.

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