CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

GM plants - same reliability?

GM has closed several plants, but they don’t usually offer a clear reason, other than to say sales are down and they have to consolidate. It makes me wonder if the vehicles being made at these plants have the same reliability.



Simple example: the Chevy Suburban was made at plants in Arlington, Texas; Janesville, Wisconsin and Silao, Mexico. GM has apparently shut down Suburban manufacturing at all but the Arlington, Texas plant. Was reliability of the vehicles part of that decision? I’m sure GM collects such statistics, but they don’t seem to advertise them. Has anyone heard of vehicles manufactured at the Janesville or Silao plants having lower reliability or more mechanical problems? I am considering purchasing an 08 Suburban and am wondering if I should consider the plant of manufacture as one small criteria.

It’s going to be very hard to get accurate by-plant reliability info, unless you know a GM insider. Lots of folks will have opinions, of course. Me, I imagine that reliability may have been one factor among many when they decided which plant to keep, but I can’t imagine it was a controlling factor. They would be constantly working to make sure all their plants were producing reliable cars and trucks.

Suburban sales have plummeted. If they had three plants building them they shut down two because they had excess capacity. My guess is they kept the plant at which these vehicles could be built most efficiently.

You may get opinions on the reliability of vehicles from one factory or the other, but you’ll have a hard time finding any facts.

If you’re looking at a used vehicle I think maintenance history means more than build location.

You’re talking two things…The FINAL ASSEMBLY plant does NOT make the components that make up the vehicle. If one component comes from one plant then the failure rate for that component should be same no matter what plant the final assembly is done in.

The focus of my question is on Assembly Line reliability. In general, is it better to get a Suburban made in Janesville, Arlington or Silao? Does it even matter?

Not being privy to inside info I can only offer a theory. Since one of the biggest expenses involved in the production process is the total cost of labor my feeling is that GM weighs the number of hours required to produce the vehicle against the profit margin.

An example. If you remember reading national news stories about the closing of the GM plant in Oklahoma City (built a lot of Tahoes, etc.) a few years ago no one should have been surprised over this at all, although state politicians including the govenor were dumbstruck.
A year BEFORE GM stated they were closing the plant an obscure news story in the OKC paper had mentioned that in the production of an SUV that Chrysler required about 20 hours of assembly time, Ford about the same, and the GM plant there required about 27 hours. It’s not hard to see how 7 hours X total labor costs X number of vehicles produced could be astronomical when compared to the competition.

Shrinking tax incentives can also play a part in the decision. The opening of the plant in OKC in the late 70s coincided with the state of OK giving GM the farm incentive wise so GM closed the Fort Worth plant and moved north a few hundred miles. In spite of the talk of OK job creation, first crack at the “new” OK jobs went to the TX people who opted to move. So nothing was created at all; 1500 jobs created in OK, 1500 lost in TX.

Just my theory anyway and in a nutshell I agree with mcparadise; it’s a financial decision.

I’d think the biggest factor is labor costs.

The US is in an undesirable position: it can’t compete with Mexico on hourly labor, and it can’t compete with Canada, as Firms aren’t on the hook for health care costs up there. So the US is getting squeezed from both sides.

The focus of my question is on Assembly Line reliability

MOST…well over 70% of the reliability of a car is in the components…i.e Engine, Transmission…etc. Final assembly reliability is almost meaningless.

There is a long list of considerations that go into this type of decieion. Labor costs, facilities maintenance and operation costs, pension obligations of one group vs the other, tax benefits from one state vs. another, the condition of the equipment, recent investments, union contacts, individual plant profitability, strategic plans, politics, and a whole host of others. Only an insider high up in the organization knows the facts, and they wouldn’t be there if they were prone to telling outsiders.

These decisions are not made based on any one criterion.

The cost to manufacture and maintain a vehicle through the warranty is the driving factor. Assembly quality is one of the components. The subsystems are built elsewhere, as Mike said. Any time two items are joined, there is a chance of error. But with the robotic systems available for assembly today, final vehicle assembly should be a small part of the puzzle.

They are all variables, but of one plant has in recent years been retrofitted with equipment that enhances its ability to more cost effectively be modified to produce the next generation and the other was still waiting for its retrofit…

Everything gets considered. Including the politics. I’d bet corn muffins that Team Obama participated in, and probably approved, the decisiion.

For a while the labor cost in Canada was horribly high for American auto manufactuers. A lot of the labor rates were negotiated when the Canadian doller was worth about 70 US cents. The value of the Canadian doller has gone up a lot since then. Healthcare may be expensive, but so is a ~30% increase in your labor costs.

I hear what the op is saying. This is not a good example since the Corvette is made at 1 plant only but when it was being made at the STL plant former employees that I worked with told me some guys would put empty soda bottles in the car while it was being made and they would tie large fender washers onto a string and hang it in the car in an inaccessible area so the customer would have a rattle they could not find. That may be the reason the Vette is now made in KY.

Ford had been making cars in STL before the 1940’s and they a good job. It had produced Aerostars and Explorers among other models. This is not 100% accurate but Ford supposedly came in and said the plant was closing. The UAW said the plant will get better and it was spared. It did end up closing and all lost their jobs.
Part of the reason is that (supposedly) there was a 25% absentee rate EVERYDAY. Ford was paying 25% of the people to stay home and they pulled the plug.

The Surb. sales are down, no doubt that is part of the reason but there could be others.

And I agree with you wholeheartedly that some tweaking by Government Motors could also be behind this.