Stepping into place for the first time on the moving assembly line at Henry Ford’s Model T factory probably didn’t give factory workers shivers of momentous awe in 1913. It probably just felt like coming into work. But momentous awe would not have been amiss; after all, Ford’s process revolutionized manufacturing in almost every industrial sector, and car manufacturers in particular have never looked back.
The assembly line required less-skilled workers, while also making them vastly more productive. Cars were cheaper and faster to make, pushing their price tags down into a range more consumers could muster. Uniformed production was another big part of the new process. Previously, Ford’s factory had offered cars customized according to individual consumer’s wishes — not anymore. Standardization meant even greater efficiency and more time saved. All in all, Ford’s innovative revamp brought production time down to a mere 93 minutes per car [source: Haven]. Cars sped out of showrooms at an astounding pace, and the company seemed unstoppable.
Fast-forward to 2009, and overall the situation is still looking tolerable for Ford Motor Company. Sure, the economy has been beating up on the Big Three without mercy for the past several years now, but Ford is weathering the storm most successfully. Unlike his counterparts at Chrysler and General Motors, Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally (who took the helm in 2006) turned down federal aid. He’s now working diligently to stabilize the company, and forecasts a return to profitability by 2011 [source: Taylor]
Mulally has also pushed for efforts to streamline production and bring the company back to its core products, while pressing for cars that are smaller and more energy-efficient. Reminiscent of Henry Ford’s drive for perfection, Mulally has Ford Motor Company pointed down the path to recovery. In this article we’ll take a closer look at how car companies around the world also try to manufacture cars as cheaply and efficiently as possible, from prototyping all the way to the end of the production line.