The World Markets Research Centre (WMRC) European Automotive Productivity Index 2003, just released, says that four of the Japanese-owned plants surveyed rank amongst the highest performers in labour productivity terms.

The Japanese led the way in terms of vehicles per person (VPP) out of the 44 plants surveyed during 2002. WMRC said this result reflects the ramp-up of production since the installation of a second plant at Honda’s United Kingdom plant in Swindon and the strong debut in the index of the Toyota facility at Valenciennes (France).

WRMC said that the Nissan plant in Sunderland, north-east England, remained the most productive plant in Europe in VPP –productivity improved by 4% compared to 2001 to 99 units per employee, although it remained below peak levels seen in 1998 and 2000.

Other key WRMC findings are: –

– The average productivity of the four Japanese plants – Honda Swindon, Toyota Burnaston (UK), Toyota Valenciennes and Nissan Sunderland (UK) – was 87.5 units per employee in 2002, a very impressive record far exceeding the European average of 61 units per employee.

– Nissan’s rivals, which began to close the gap on Sunderland in 2001, are continuing to make progress. The Toyota Valenciennes plant, which debuted with an impressive 88 VPP in 2002, could realistically be challenging to become the most productive plant in – Europe in future years as capacity is increased with the addition of a third shift. Renault’s Valladolid (Spain) plant set a new Spanish record of 89 VPP in 2002, and its joint manufacturing with Nissan could see further productivity gains in future.

– Average productivity rose from 57 VPP in 2001 to 61 in 2002. In a declining European car market, the increase is an indication that manufacturers are beginning to target improved productivity as a priority even in times of low demand. In 2002, 26 plants (60% of the total surveyed) improved their overall productivity, 14 plants saw a decrease in productivity and three plants saw their productivity remain constant.

– One of the most revealing statistics in the 2003 index is that whereas there were just three plants in 2001 that had average labour productivity of over 80 units per employee – a standard that can be viewed as highly productive in European terms – in 2002 there were 10. The new additions to the ‘over-80’ VPP group include Renault Valladolid, Toyota Valenciennes, GM Antwerp (Belgium), Renault Novo Mesto (Slovenia), Honda Swindon, GM Eisenach (Germany) and GM Zaragoza (Spain).

– The question as to Europe’s productivity compared to the rest of the world remains a critical one, especially as manufacturers look to make decisions on future investments based on a range of factors, including cost of production and the availability of skilled, productive workforces. Although favourable or parallel comparisons can be made between European and North American productivity, there is little doubt that Europe remains some way behind most Asian plants in terms of labour productivity.

The WMRC European Automotive Productivity Index calculates the vehicles per person (VPP) average produced in any plant during a given year by dividing the total number of units produced at the plant level in a given year by the equivalent workforce figure calculated by WMRC in each year. That figure is calculated according to the engaged in actual vehicle manufacturing processes.

However, analysts caution that this method is fraught with difficulties due to the difficulties of exactly comparing like with like.

The WMRC Top 10: (vehicles per person)

1. Nissan Sunderland (UK) 99
2. Renault Valladolid (Spain) 89
3. Toyota Valenciennes (France) 88
4. Ford Saarlouis (Germany) 87
5. GM Antwerp (Belgium) 83
6. Renault Novo Mesto (Slovenia) 82
7. Honda Swindon (UK) 82
8. Toyota Burnsaston (UK) 81
9. GM Eisenach (Germany) 80
10. GM Zaragoza (Spain) 80