How long does it take to manufacture a car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

With the recent economic downturn and less work to do, my co-workers and I have found ourselves sitting around our cubicles wondering about various trivial matters. Today, an argument erupted between myself and Scott, in the cubicle next to mine, about how long it takes to make a new car. I argue that they can easily crank out a new pickup truck from start to finish in one day, with the only exception being the time it takes for the painting process. He argues that it takes a couple of days to build a car or truck. Now, keep in mind that this is obviously a different question from how many cars come off the assembly line in one day. We need an answer, and you are our only hope. -- Drew

RAY: It's not an easy question to answer, Drew, because a lot of the parts are preassembled -- like the engine, for instance. But in terms of "putting it together," you're more right than Scott is, Drew.

TOM: From the beginning of the assembly line to the end, when the vehicle drives off under its own power, it takes between 17 and 31 hours, depending on the efficiency of the plant.

RAY: The most recent statistics are for 2000, and they show that Nissan is the fastest builder, with an average of 17.3 hours per vehicle. Honda is next, at 19.9; and Toyota is after that, at 21.6.

TOM: Ford is the fastest domestic manufacturer, with a 25.7-hour average. GM is next, with 26.8; and DiamlerChrysler pulls up the rear with a lopey 31.3 hours per vehicle.

RAY: Manufacturers are always trying to reduce the time they spend making each vehicle, because that makes the vehicle cheaper to build. Harbour and Associates, the firm that studies this stuff, estimates that Nissan, Honda and Toyota save $500-$700 per car over Ford and GM due to their faster assembly lines.

TOM: But remember, fastest does not necessarily equal best quality. I mean, my brother and I might be able to build a vehicle in 12 hours. But it would fall apart even faster!

Get the Car Talk Newsletter