I toured the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant last week. Seven years ago I toured the Cadillac plant in Detroit. The two manufacturing facilities are very different. There are several observations from the comparison.
- The VW plant is similar to walking into Target and the Cadillac plant is like walking into the cave at Rock City (It is a novelty to see but its a bit eery too).
- Parts of the GM plant were very loud and the workers wore ear protection, the VW plant was very quiet. (Battery operated tools) Different music tunes played at the VW plant to alert the workers whether to slow down or speed up. (I must say the selection of music at VW was horrible and sounded like a Japanese robot wrote it and performed it on a synth.) Might help productivity if they had some James Brown “feel good” blasting…just sayin…
- Volkswagen plant had many different levels of assembly lines above your head in two or three layers at a time. The Cadillac plant took much more ground space as most of it was one level.
- Both facilities employed JIT(Just-in-Time) techniques, but the efficiency of distance for parts to travel, worker lift and movement and gravity fed racks is very slanted to VW’s favor.
- The spirit of the employees and how they engaged with the tour was different. More of the VW employees waved and seemed to take pride in their work and environment. The tour guide for VW was a walking encyclopedia, whereas the GM tour guide was somewhat entertaining, but did not leave an impression that I needed to run out and buy a Caddy. The tour in VW was 0.5 mile walking and the rest seated in a Passat seat mounted on a tram. The GM tour was mostly in tram and nice but not the fun impression of the Passat simulated leather seating.
- Have to insert here an observation: I did not see any of VW’s “Industrial Athletes” working out in their really cool gym facility. Not sure how well the concept of working 10 hour shifts and then pumping iron really works out. There were no idle employees seen at the VW tour. I have also toured some of Germany as a teen, and they do have a different culture….Ve have ways here… Did not get to talk to workers at either plant about conditions, treatment, etc.
- The VW plant is a platinum Leed certified design. The rainwater off of the roof is collected in large tanks that sit on top of tornado shelter bathrooms that provide over 1.5 million gallons of water each year to flush toilets as well as cool the welding tips on the assembly line robots.
- In fairness the tours are 7 years apart and the Passat is a $20,000 sedan with a production rate of 600-700 cars daily, and the Cadillac is obviously high end and most likely fewer produced daily. But the feeling after being inside either of the facilities is so different. You leave feeling like you have been to Frontierland in Detroit Disney and Futureworld at Chattanooga Disney VW.
- I grew up in a very smoggy, smelly Chattanooga. Toured Germany in the 80s and was overwhelmed at how clean and neat it was. Now, some Germany has landed here and it leaves me with the same neat, tidy and efficient feeling. Kudos to our German brothers. If i can find my Hofbrauhaus stein, I will raise it!