The future auto factory?

Two interesting pieces on the future of auto factories. One from Bill Vlasic for the New York Times on the factory that will build the new small Chevy Sonic here in Michigan. The other on the amazing new VW Transparent Factory in downtown Dresden, Germany on You Tube . Both are worth checking out.

The Vlasic article is about what GM and the UAW agreed to in order to build the only subcompact car made in America. None are built here now because the industry has not figured out how to build a low cost car here profitably. The Chevy Sonic will be built in Orion Township. As Vlasic writes the entire plant is reimagined and reengineered from the typical GM auto plant. But key to achieving the needed costs savings is the radically revamped factory here operates with fewer and cheaper workers, many of whom are paid $14 an hour rather than the full U.A.W. wage of $28 an hour.

For Michigan and the country this is the essential take away: the future of factory work in America is fewer workers (machines will do far more) and lower pay. It is not that factory work is going to disappear in America. But to be competitive it will have to rely more on machines than workers and it will pay less. The plants with high average compensation will be those with the fewest workers (where machines do the most). Unlike the 20th Century, factory-based economies are no longer a path to a mass middle class.

Matthew Neagle – now in Seattle with Amazon – sent me the link to the VW plant video with a note saying:  … imagine the possibilities in the new assembly plants in Detroit were like this – they would actually become assets to creating a vibrant downtown area. The video is worth watching for what a reimagined auto plant looks like. But what is most interesting is its location in the downtown of a major city. Pretty amazing! Worth thinking about! 

Auto Blog wrote about the Transparent Factory:  While most automotive assembly plants are greasy behemoths sequestered off on the fringes of industrial cities, the assembly plant that puts together the Phaeton stands as a squeaky-clean, glassed-in pantheon to the automobile right in the heart of downtown Dresden, Germany. Volkswagen developed a number of brilliant technologies for use in the factory, from the moving wood floor and electronically-tracked nuts and bolts to the magnet-driven robots that shuttle the parts around the facility and the cargo tram that delivers them there. All of this and more is on display to visitors as well as customers coming to take delivery directly on premises. It’s a wonder to behold …

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