This has been a tough year for most auto makes : so far this year sales are down 24% at Chrysler, 18% at GM, 15% at Ford and 7.8% at Toyota. But U.S. sales at Honda are up 1.7%. There are two reasons for Honda’s success. (1) Honda’s product mix depends less on SUVs and pickups than the others (i.e., fuel efficient models make up a larger portion of their portfolio). (2) Honda has some of the most flexible plants in the U.S. To illustrate that flexibility, Honda is able to switch from producing Civics to CR-Vs with only 5 minutes of downtime! Honda has achieved this flexibility through many different decisions. For example, the Civic and CR-Vs were designed to be manufacturered in the same sequence of steps, so the same step (such as a door installation) can occur at the same location on the assembly line. Honda did have to invest $400m several years ago to improve its flexibility. That looks like a good investment in the current climate.
Wall Street Journal, Sep 23, 2008 – Honda’s Flexible Plants Provide Edge