Now for the Real Interbuildability

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Years ago, I was in a new Volkswagen factory. Different cars of different brands were rolling down the same assembly line, most of the work done by robots. A huge stamping machine made fifty fenders, dropped the tool into a storage bin, grabbed another tool and made eighty doors. I said to the guy who showed me the factory: “Soon, you can ship the tooling to another factory via e-mail.”

“Sure,” the guy said. “As long as they all have a setup like this.” This is what Ford seems to be doing.

When Ford builds a new plant anywhere in the world, it is now required that it has the same processes and equipment as other company facilities. This is what Ford manufacturing chief Joe Hinrichs said at the same conference, where GM gave a stand-up routine about interbuildability.

Ford simply calls it “standardizing.” Their Ford Fiesta subcompacts built in China will come from a factory identical to Ford’s Cuautitlan plant in Mexico. In three years, ten Ford assembly plants in North America should achieve the same “levels of body shop flexibility,” Hinrichs said in a keynote speech at the Automotive News Manufacturing Conference.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

More by Bertel Schmitt

Join the conversation
4 of 31 comments
  • U mad scientist U mad scientist on Jun 18, 2009
    I'd suggest that you become better informed of the European market and how cars are bought there. In other words you concede the point because you have NOTHING to show that company cars make a significant difference and also decided to dodge the point on their emerging markets. - So did GM. Didn’t do it much good in the long run. It did good for VW, along with the latin american market, that's what we're talking about. GM has enough problems of its own that nothing short of BK has even the potential to save it, so your point is idiotic. - Irrelevant. What matters is whether they have changed the laws covering company unions, and so far they haven’t. What's relevant is that they don't care, and they didn't want to. - As I said, it contains valuable information on the history of the Japanese auto industry after World War II, particularly an important strike against Nissan in the early 1950s, and how it was resolved. Yes, they learned their lesson on labor relations early, and the d3 is coming about much much slower. Did you have a point other than that? - Talk to people in the industry. The UAW is hardly blameless. And it’s not 1937 anymore. The UAW is hardly powerless within these companies. We are both aware of the failures in the d3's labor pool. The disagreement here is that you take the standard "equality culpable" stance, which ignores the whole point of labor management (look at my post above, see the point you dodged about the role of management). Hey, you know what? Dumb labors suck at managing. Maybe the company should hire some people who are decent at that kind of job. - And when a company succesfully completes the arduous task of negotiating and implementing competitive operating agreements (COAs) in its plants, I’d say it is doing something right on the labor relations front. A few decades behind the times. Stellar performance by your standards no doubt. Not living in the past anymore is a real achievement for the backwards. - If you remain unconvinced, perhaps the problem resides with you and a lack of knowledge of what is happening in the domestic auto industry. We get it. You're so knowledgeable because you know what's in that book that I just summarized in one sentence, and which doesn't really assist your point in any way.
  • ZoomZoom ZoomZoom on Jun 18, 2009

    ZoomZoom: I was “government schooled” in the 60s and 70s, and I have an advanced degree today. In retrospect, I do believe that I was not served well by my public school education. agenthex responds: ...given what I recall of your other posts, are you sure you’re served well by that advanced degree. Wow. Was that a serious response? By the way, you missed a question mark on the end of that...

  • ZoomZoom ZoomZoom on Jun 19, 2009

    It was an honest self-assessment from my personal perspective, given my life experiences. That is to say, I'm NOT offended by the comments that Mikey thought somebody like me would be offended by. I stated that, and I stated the reason behind it. It was not an invitation to insult me. Others may feel differently than I. If so, they should have responded with their own opinion from their own personal perspective, without vitriol. Issuing insults does not encourage free and open discussion, and so I'm ending my presence in this thread. By the way, my "nitpicking" was merely done in good humor. I just thought it was funny, and I was hoping that it might be an ice-breaker that we could all kind of laugh about and move on. I see now that that's not possible. Just to be clear, I most certainly didn't mean to dis anybody's reputation or intelligence. I apologize if that was the perception; I probably should have used an emoticon. Or better yet, just ignored the comment. Maybe I'm reading a bit too much between the lines here, but I think this conversation has run out of safe pavement. For that, I'm truly sorry, and I'll be more careful in the future.

  • U mad scientist U mad scientist on Jun 19, 2009
    By the way, my “nitpicking” was merely done in good humor. I just thought it was funny, and I was hoping that it might be an ice-breaker that we could all kind of laugh about and move on. People tend to take me much more seriously than I take myself. If you read me in a snarky and sarcastic tone, perhaps it won't come off as being mean.