Lessons From The Future



Volume III
Lessons From The Future


It's time North American auto workers and their managers devote less time to complaining about low Mexican wages and spend more effort attempting to match high quality Mexican labor. A car plant in Ramos Arizpe, 200 miles south of the U.S. border in Mexico, maintains the highest production-quality standards in the entire empire of General Motors, fading, but still the world's largest car manufacturer.

California research group, J.D. Power & Associates, in their annual report on such developments rated Ramos Arizpe Numero Uno among G.M. plants, which averages 86 glitches per 100 cars. The current industry average in the entire U.S. auto industry is 140 glitches, down dramatically from a few years ago. The Ramos Arizpe plant produces Buick Centurys and Chevrolet Cavaliers. Not just for Mexico. These cars are now sold in the U.S. and Canada -- 234,895 last year to be exact. Buyers of these models are the luckiest of all General Motors buyers, because their vehicles were made in Mexico. Fewer than eight percent of all U.S. buyers of these models had any claims against the warranties! The brutal fact is that either of these Mexican-made models is a better buy than an identical car made in Ste. Therese, Quebec or in Oklahoma City.

How did this happen? Attitude. The new, young (average age 22) Mexican workers, are where North American auto workers were in the 1950s. Today's Mexican auto workers have those demanding jobs they wanted. The pay, US$3 per hour, by local contemporary standards is miraculous, worker self-esteem and public admiration is high. This makes them work their butts off. Production keeps climbing, defects continue to diminish and salaries keep going up. Today this happens in Mexico, not Oshawa, Windsor or Detroit.

For years we heard how Detroit and Oshawa maligned Japanese workers claiming "what can they make out of old American beer cans?" Apparently General Motors finally learned that lesson well. They didn't say that about Mexicans. The old-age belief that unskilled workers in developing countries could not match educated, skilled union workers in a developed country obviously isn't true. It's been done in Mexico and very quickly. New untrained workers, in many cases not educated anywhere near as well as the rest of North Americans, receive more paid training -- seven weeks vs. four in the U.S. They were willing to learn new ways. This plant didn't even have to spend zillions on expensive automation. The Ramos Arizpe, factory has only one robot. Probably so they won't be accused of racism. These younger, untrained workers have a better attitude, accept new processes quicker and do not suffer from "the old ways are better ways" attitude associated with American and Canadian militant union workers. These Mexicans have learned the importance of quality is in a globalized world. Not only G.M. has seen this writing on the computer screen. All Volkswagan production for North America is now in Mexico. Nissan, the only Japanese manufacturer so far in Mexico, is rolling the dice for big bucks and are building a massive billion dollar plant at Aguascalientes, 150 miles north of Guadalajara. The plant will only be half as automated as those in Japan, but within a year they will, be exporting more than 60,000 Sentra cars annually from Mexico -- to quality conscious Japanese!

At this stage in such a revelation, most discussions fall back on the idea that better American or Canadian management has produced this wonder. But only three of the 121 managers in all G.M.'s Mexican operations are Americans, no Canadians!

At one time, Detroit, Windsor and Oshawa used to stand for quality and high production auto manufacturing. That title passed to Japan and South Korea. Now Mexico, once known for jumping beans and fritos, is starting to appear on world auto production charts - at the top. A great place to start.

Late flash: The best Ford is now also made in Mexico. At the Ford plant in Hermosillo.


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