DETROIT -- Overtime hours in 2001 on North American light-vehicle assembly lines were cut nearly in half from the prior year, and total hours worked were down by 8.1%, based on a Ward’s analysis.

North American light-vehicle production – including estimates for some plants in Mexico that will be finalized later this month -- ended the year at 15.496 million units. That marks a 5-year low but the fifth-best year on record, with all the top five years coming since 1996.

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Vehicle assembly lines operated an estimated 354,379 hours in 2001, vs. 385,480 in 2000 when North American factories pushed out a record 17.166 million units. Estimated overtime hours numbered 13,311 -- 3.8% of the total -- in 2001, well below the 23,397 in 2000 or 6.3% of total estimated hours worked.

North American light-vehicle assembly plants had available capacity – straight-time capacity less scheduled vacation and holiday shutdowns – of 18.862 million units in 2001, compared with 18.454 million in 2000. Plants built to 82.2% of their available capacity in 2001, down from the prior year’s 93.0%.

Of their available straight-time hours, plants worked to 94.3% of that in 2001, well below the mark of 102.9% in 2000.

Of the Top Six manufacturers, Honda of America Mfg. Inc. was the lone auto maker to work more hours in 2001 from the prior year, and, accordingly, the only one to produce more vehicles compared with 2000. Also, Honda, on the strength of its Canadian plants, built to 103.5% of its available capacity in 2001, up from 99.5% in 2000. None of the other Top Six had production that met or exceeded their available output.

Toyota Motor Mfg. North America Inc. was the only other manufacturer to have its plant hours worked meet or exceed its available hours. However, a temporary line-speed slowdown at its Georgetown, KY, plant while it was ramping up the redesigned ’02 Camry reduced its capacity utilization.

Ford Motor Co. worked the most overtime of any manufacturer: 5,069 hours, which still was less than half of its industry-leading 11,118 overtime hours in 2000. Ford also had the highest utilization rate for hours worked (94.0%) and production (87.3%) among the Big Three. In addition to downtime to control inventory, utilization rates were dampened at General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. because of lengthy downtime at some plants to re-tool for new trucks.

Individually, all three North American countries worked less hours in 2001 compared with 2000. However, overtime hours increased in Mexico while declining in the U.S. and Canada. Mexico’s overtime hours rose 9.0% to 2,386, led by DCC’s Toluca plant building PT Cruisers and GM’s plant in Silao assembling large SUVs, as well as the new Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac EXT.

In the U.S., overtime hours worked declined by 49.8% to 9,294. Canada overtime fell by 55.9% to 1,631.