General Motors Corp. says its “Global Manufacturing System” (GMS) is smoothing out new product launches, cutting warranty costs and improving quality.

GMS is modeled after the Toyota Production System, exposed to GM through its New United Motor Mfg. Inc. joint venture with Toyota Motor Corp. in California. GM has added its own wrinkles and begun incorporating the system into the blueprints for new assembly plants and older facilities being retooled for new models.

The basic philosophy is to use the same manufacturing methods and sequences at all plants worldwide and employ common parts as much as possible — GM's upcoming Chevrolet Avalanche shares 80% of its components with the Suburban, for example. Facilities are designed to be flexible enough to produce several different models.

As part of GMS, GM has begun tracking direct run rate, which measures the percentage of vehicles that go through the entire assembly process defect-free. Gary L. Cowger, group vice president-Manufacturing and Labor Relations, says that measure improved 35% from January to December 2000, and currently is running at 79%. The goal for 2001 is 80%, a level that would equal NUMMI performance, which GM says is world class. Half of GM's plants already are running better than the 80% bogey, officials say.

Mr. Cowger also says GM's last 11 new product launches have exceeded timetable targets. Three programs were launched with zero lost days of production, and another six lost fewer than five days.

GM execs say the company's new midsize sport/utility vehicles were launched two to three weeks early. They say a defect that led to a stoppage in production and a recall (see Ward's Automotive Reports — April 9, '01, p.1) was the result of a part problem that could not have been caught in the manufacturing process.

The automaker says it is working to eliminate supplier and parts snafus that stop the line. So-called “supplier spills” were cut 48% last year, says Guy D. Briggs, general manager-Vehicle Manufacturing, and the goal is to reduce that 50% annually going forward.

The improved throughput allowed GM to cut its non-scheduled overtime by 30% in 2000 and the improved manufacturing process is resulting in lower warranty costs and better quality scores.

GM won't say how long GMS will take to implement completely.