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Lorraine Explains: Ontario automakers have still got it, per plant quality awards

The Corolla assembly at Toyota's plant in Cambridge, Ont.  Handout/Toyota Canada
The Corolla assembly at Toyota's plant in Cambridge, Ont.  Handout/Toyota Canada - POSTMEDIA

Lorraine Sommerfeld

Every year, J.D. Power awards prestigious Power Plant Quality Awards to those plants that produce cars and trucks with the fewest defects in North and South America, and around the world.

Ontario has always been a powerhouse, with a rich history in setting a high bar for quality production.

You might be more familiar with the company’s awards that go to individual vehicles and manufacturers each year, based on performance within their lineup. Many Canadian-built vehicles from Ford, Honda, GM, FCA, and Toyota earn their accolades in these categories.

But plant quality awards point to sustained excellence in production that is essential to a region maintaining a stronghold in a fiercely-competitive global manufacturing arena.

Purchasers or lessees are surveyed 90 days into their new-vehicle ownership. Any complaints or problems in this initial period of use are tallied to create a score. The fewer the number of complaints per 100 vehicles, the higher the quality score. The vehicles receiving the best scores win those accolades, while the plants producing the best vehicles vie for plant awards.

Individual models produced in our Canadian plants frequently win their best-in-class, but overall excellence in plant production is a top goal.

In 2020, the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC)’s South Plant in Cambridge, Ont., which produces the Lexus RX, received a Bronze award for the third time in a row, to make eight times in total. In 2019, the North Plant received the Platinum award – best in the world – for its Toyota Corolla production. This is the plant’s third Platinum award, and in just over 30 years of production, it has won eighteen J.D. Power Plant Quality Awards.

The J.D. Power Initial Quality Study awards are now in their 35th year. In 2020, significant changes were introduced regarding how the awards were calculated, as well as who won them. The measure for highest-ranking brands and models now includes a focus on “components that fail and features that are difficult to use, hard to understand, or don’t work the way owners want.” This is a much-needed measure that reflects that, as fast as technology is moving, if users can’t keep up, or if vehicles aren’t making it accessible for those users, it’s a calculable fault.

For Power Plant Quality Awards, it’s hard to ignore the impact of the ever-growing global transformation on the production side. 2020 saw General Motors Company’s Yantai Dongyue 2 plant in China nab top honours, with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Toluca plant in Mexico finishing first in the Americas, and Toyota’s Turkey plant doing so for the Europe/Africa regions. The competition is fierce.

The General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ont., with over a century of production history, has won 19 J.D. Power Plant Awards, as well as the rarely-awarded Founder’s Award. While new-car production ceased there in 2018, new vehicles will be flowing out within a year. GM’s CAMI Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario won a Silver Plant Award in 2014.


The General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ont. has won 19 J.D. Power Plant Awards, as well as the rarely-awarded Founder’s Award.  Handout/GM - POSTMEDIA
The General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ont. has won 19 J.D. Power Plant Awards, as well as the rarely-awarded Founder’s Award. Handout/GM - POSTMEDIA

The GM Oshawa story is also a sobering reminder that all the awards in the world can’t fend off an ever-changing global reality. Economic forces weigh more heavily into many decisions, and until the recent announcement of new life being breathed into the Oshawa assembly line to address an explosive demand for big pickups, most of the lines sat idle.

Power Plant Awards are pretty much an inside baseball award, and consumers are far more likely to use the awards – any awards, really – to ferret out how the model they’re looking at fares, rather than the plant overall.

I’ve questioned the value of all automotive awards in the past, not just because of the difficulty in comparing apples to apples if all vehicles in a given segment are not put head-to-head, but also in how points get awarded. If surveys count each fault as equal, that means the fact I’m too tech-challenged to figure out how to work the GPS would count the same as my transmission failing. Awards are guideposts, not ultimate answers.

Ontario’s automotive sector is a tent-pole of the Canadian economy. Nearly two million vehicles were produced in 2019 by the five manufacturers situated there. The industry employs about 100,000 Ontarians directly, alongside more than 700 parts suppliers and over 500 tool, die, and mold companies. Ontario exports 85 per cent of what it builds, to create $70.6 billion in auto exports.

Making a good product will always be measured by how much money that product can churn, but repeatedly being recognized among your global peers is good for employee morale, customer loyalty, and industry advancement. It’s good for business.

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