Among the five largest automakers in North America comprised of Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and the Detroit Big Three, which participated in the latest Harbor Report, Toyota led the group with the best overall manufacturing productivity. Additionally, Honda of America Manufacturing Inc.’s Marysville Assembly Plant has received top accolade for stamping productivity from an automotive researcher.

Honda’s Marysville plant, where the company produces the Accord sedan and coupe and the Acura TL sedan, topped the list for stamping productivity. According to the Harbor Report, an annual study closely followed by Wall Street and industry analysts, the Japanese automaker also ranked No. 1 for overall assembly performance in North America. The report disclosed that each vehicle takes 21.1 hours to assemble.

Marysville-based Honda of America has plants in Marysville, Russells Point, Anna and East Liberty and a research and development center in Raymond. The company manufactures Honda Accord, Civic, Element and CR-V models and Acura TL and RDX vehicles at its Central Ohio plants. Approximately 13,700 workers in the area work to improve its Honda body parts and product lines.

In 2006, General Motors and Honda posted the largest productivity gains among North American automakers, narrowing the gap with industry leader Toyota. GM also had the first time with the most efficient plants in three of the four categories measured in the study.

Toyota reclaimed the top spot from Nissan Motor Co. in the Harbor Report. This was despite a two percent increase in the number of man hours it took for Toyota to build a vehicle. GM ranked fourth overall and highest among domestic manufacturers.

Toyota required 29.93 hours to build a vehicle last year, including stamping body parts, building the engine and transmission, and assembly. Nissan was not involved in this year’s study, but Harbor estimated it needed 29.97 hours, 1.5 more than in 2005, based on the number of workers versus production.

Honda increased 2.7 percent to 31.63 hours and GM 2.5 percent to 32.36 hours. DaimlerChrysler improved 2.4 percent to 32.9 hours and Ford improved 1.9 percent to 35.1. Meanwhile, domestic automakers continued to bridge the gap with Japanese automakers. In 2002, GM needed almost eight hours longer than Toyota to build a vehicle, and now it’s less than 2.5. GM has cut nearly 16 hours off the time it takes to build a vehicle since 1997, and Toyota has cut fewer than two.

Ron Harbor, president of Harbor Consulting of Troy, Michigan, predicted that massive job cuts this year at the three domestic companies would lead to additional productivity gains because fewer workers will build nearly the same number of vehicles. Harbor noted that several UAW locals have adopted such agreements, which will also be an issue this summer in contract talks.

GM was able to improve more because it had to go further, Harbor said. “When you get down to Toyota level, you’re not going to make double-digit improvements,” he said. “It has really started to pay off.”

Dan Sieger, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, declined to comment on its drop in productivity, but said: “We look at many different metrics, including our own studies, and we are always looking for ways to improve.”

Toyota has expanded rapidly in North America and elsewhere, producing more vehicles than GM in the first quarter for the first time. Some analysts wonder if Toyota has stretched too far, but Sieger said: “There is no question that our growth is a big challenge, but by all metrics, our quality is still good and improving.”

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