Ford’s European Struggles

A new article in the Wall Street Journal explains that Ford Motor Company has come up with a drastic plan to reduce operating losses in Europe due to its large decline in European sales.  The company plans to close three assembly and parts factories, cut 13% of their workforce, and reduce its new-car production capacity by 18%.  The cause for this big change is because of the continuous poor sales in Europe and forecasts that say sales are not expected to get any better in the near future.  These projected losses are one and a half billion dollars for this year and next.  The new plan will hopefully decrease operating costs for Ford by $500 million in the next two years.

The plan would decrease their production of vehicles produced in its Europe plants by 206,000, and also decrease the workforce by 6200 people.  According to the article, “Ford’s plans are the most drastic by European auto makers as they cope with the industry’s chronic overcapacity.”  So this plan is Ford’s way of matching capacity to demand, and two of the ways that a company can match its capacity to demand after overproducing are by making staff changes, in this case laying off workers, and by closing facilities, which Ford will do for three of its plants.

This restructuring plan is similar to a plan implored by CEO Alan Mulally in the U.S. in which Ford cut 30% of its workforce and reduced its plant capacity by 25% and has showed some success.  Ford hopes to duplicate similar success in Europe with this strategy.  The profits from the U.S. and North American sales have, so far, been able to offset the losses in Europe.

One of the plants in Genk, Belgium that Ford plans on closing was already operating at the lowest level of any plant in Europe.  The design capacity of the plan allowed it to create way more vehicles than they were, so the design and effective capacity were way higher than the actual production of the plant giving it poor efficiency.  The plants in Europe were not producing at the optimum operating level.  The tricky part for Ford is knowing the optimum capacity because with sales not expecting to increase anytime soon, it is hard to determine the level of output they need.

One question I had was even though a similar strategy worked for Ford in the U.S. is it possible to have the same success in Europe?  I think it would be difficult to repeat the success because the U.S. is just one country while in Europe it would be across multiple countries with different regulations and unions.  Will this ultimately decrease the losses in Europe?

Harley-Davidson Inc. – Productivity

I recently read in article in the Wall Street Journal,  talking about changes for the company Harley-Davidson.  Over the past few years the company has trimmed down their production making it more flexible in order to avoid the risks that come with a falling economy.  Production for the York plant in Pennsylvania has shifted from 41 buildings to one large factory that depends on machines to do more work, while at the same time cutting the number of hourly workers in half to improve production.  This transformation will help allow Harley-Davidson to increase or decrease levels of production based on demand.

Harley-Davidson now believes that it can increase its operating profit margin to 16% since it will no longer need peak levels of production to gain profits.  In many of Harley’s factories they are depending more on part time workers and contractors to cut costs.  In York where there used to be 62 job classifications now only has five, meaning the hourly workers have multiple skills and can be used in production anywhere making them a lot more flexible.  The company now receives supplies for the factory based on day to day sales instead of buying extra materials they will not need.

Like many other companies, Harley is just trying to cut costs and stay competitive in a slumping economy.  Companies keep looking for new ways to increase profits.  For example, the traditional approach, from our book, in operations management is the emphasis on specialized, often manual tasks.  However, Harley-Davidson appears to be getting rid of the specialization of their employees and would prefer them to be able to numerous tasks instead of one.  It is also the operation manager’s job to improve productivity, which is defined as the ratio of outputs divided by inputs (Heizer, Render 13).  This is exactly what Harley is doing. By reducing inputs like labor and other costs they are increasing their productivity efficiency.  Harley seems to be leaning on the labor variable more than others to improve its productivity by counting on the increased knowledge of their workers and the ability to use this knowledge to perform multiple tasks.

Some questions that I had about the changes going on for Harley-Davidson is that since facilities have started to stock supplies based on the everyday demand of its products, is it possible that if there were a sudden large increase in the demand for motorcycles the company would not be able to satisfy the needs of all its customers on time?  Also, with many companies like Harley downsizing to improve performance, does it hurt the overall economy because of the reduced number of jobs?