The Wall Street Journal

In Risky Move, GM to Run Plants Around Clock
The Wall Street Journal

Obama Auto Team Urged the Change; Experts Say Maintenance, Restocking Could Cut Into Efficiency.

Starting Jan. 4, General Motors Co. plans to do something unprecedented in the U.S. car industry: It will run its assembly line here around the clock on a permanent basis.

While common in other industries, not even car-efficiency benchmark Toyota Motor Corp. operates its plants routinely with more than two shifts. Car-assembly lines need too much scheduled maintenance and restocking for such intensive production to make sense, many industry experts say.

The Obama administration auto task force that oversaw GM’s reorganization last spring was startled to learn that the industry standard for plants to be considered at 100% capacity was two shifts working about 250 days a year. In recommending that the government invest about $50 billion in GM, the task force urged the company to strive toward operating at 120% capacity by traditional standards.

But industry manufacturing experts are skeptical, noting that the federal task force had limited automotive experience. « Do those guys understand the business? » asked Ron Harbour, whose Harbour Report is a widely followed analysis of auto-plant efficiency.