Surveys suggest the quality gap is closing between Japanese and other auto makers. But there remains a significant hiccup that could stymie the Big Three's hopes of catching their Asian counterparts in the efficiency and manufacturing cost race, a top consultant says.

Detroit's die costs typically are two to three times higher than those of Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corp., Laurie Felax, vice president-Harbour Consulting, says at the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Assn. conference in Hamilton, Ont., Canada.

The heavy stamping investment is eating up profits in Detroit and could prove to be a longtime challenge to overcome, she says.

The relatively high costs are a result of using larger dies than the Japanese, in addition to employing a less-than-common print across the die population due to a lack of commonality in vehicle design. Honda, Nissan and Toyota use dies that are about the size of a kitchen table, she says.

“Go to a GM or Ford plant that builds a similar door or body side, (and the dies) are three to four times bigger.”

Plus, Japanese OEMs tend to evolve the design of their parts every four to five years, rather than totally redraw them, she says.