In August of 2014, we initially alerted our Supply Chain Matters readers to the growing attractiveness of Mexico as a North America based Manufacturing and export hub for the global automotive industry. At the time, automotive OEM’s BMW, Honda, Kia Motors, Mazda, Volkswagen’s Audi Group, and a partnership among Nissan and Daimler had each announced Mexican production sourcing decisions that amounted to billions of dollars of investment. That process has continued. Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford Motor Co. has plans to more than double its Mexico based production capacity by 2018. The decision, if confirmed, has many further implications from many dimensions, including the political dimension.
As we observed in 2014, Mexico’s attraction stems from two strategic considerations. The first is to serve as an alternative global manufacturing region in the context of lower direct labor costs as well as to offset global currency impacts. The second is serving as a hub of automotive exports to serve both North America and other global markets because of the former considerations.
Citing informed sources, today’s WSJ report indicates that Ford will build an entirely new assembly plant in Mexico as well as expand capacity of a current facility. The new assembly complex is expected to be built in San Luis Potosi with an annual capacity for as many as 350,000 vehicles per year. A separate expansion is being planned for Ford’s Cuautitlan production facility near Mexico City, which will reportedly augment production capacity for an additional 150,000 vehicles annually. Total invested cost is noted as $1 billion, on top of the $2.5 billion in investment that Ford announced last year concerning a new engine and transmission production facility.
As for models being considered for Mexico production sourcing, the WSJ indicates the current Ford Focus is scheduled to transfer production from a U.S. facility in Michigan within the next two years to make room for more profitable truck based vehicles. Two other new models are being planned for Mexico, one being termed as an all new hybrid car designed to compete with Toyota’s Prius hybrid. Ford already produces two other midsized sedans in Mexico. The WSJ views Ford’s product strategy as having higher margin product models such as SUV’s and pick-up trucks sourced in U.S. plants under labor union contracts, with lower margin models sourced in Mexico and other foreign countries.
The WSJ report’s editorial reflects that Ford’s latest moves are indicators of a strategy to offset the signing of a new labor agreement among its U.S. unionized work force, which raises direct labor costs to nearly $30 per hour in the coming years. Mexico’s direct labor rates are indicated as being one-fifth that of unionized workers in the U.S.
Ford itself refused to comment on both the WSJ report as well as its editorial related to offsetting direct labor costs.
Speculation that Ford was considering an increased manufacturing presence in Mexico has been cited among certain candidates in the U.S. Presidential election cycle, and not in a positive manner. The politics of such a decision are ripe given that certain U.S. states with unionized workers will vote in presidential primaries over the remainder of this year, and states like Michigan, Ohio and Illinois have influence in delegate and Electoral College voting. Presidential Republican candidates such as Donald Trump while democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton echo the fears of more jobs being lost to Mexico and other countries. Then there is the rhetoric in Republican ranks of building higher walls on the U.S. and Mexico borders to stem illegal immigration and protecting jobs.
As our Supply Chain Matters readership is well aware, major production sourcing decisions have broader implications, the need for many dependent suppliers to also increase their sourcing presence to supply production in Mexico. This is especially important in automotive supply chains that are mostly driven from just-in-time production and inventory movement methodologies. The greater the investment presence in a single country, the more value-chain presence occurs, adding to more investment.
The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement when and if ratified, will provide even more implications to multi-industry global sourcing strategies, especially automotive. No doubt it well heightens more political discourse on job creation or job loss among North America countries. Mexico itself threw a monkey wrench in ongoing talks hoping to preserve the current automotive sourcing investment wave and to protect its interests in the definition of “rules of origin” and what would be classified as duty-free imports to the U.S. Under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 62.5 percent of component sourcing must come from within the NAFTA free-trade area to qualify as duty-free.
Mexico recently overtook Japan to become the second-largest exporter of vehicles to the U.S. The WSJ report cites data from LMC Automotive indicating that auto factories in Mexico produced 3.4 million vehicles in 2015, about one-fight of all North America production.
U.S. and other global-wide political leaders, whether current or aspiring, should be concerned with such global supply chain strategic sourcing decisions. This latest WSJ report cites Mexico’s economy minister as indicating that there will be several other significant automotive industry investments announced in the not too distant future.
The obvious takeaway is that in the current period of trending reflecting global manufacturing recession and consequent heightened concerns for global trade and local economies, strategic sourcing decisions will take on heightened political dimensions, and such an environment transcends quantitative data such as direct labor and landed costs. Beyond analytics, quantification and spreadsheets are the politics of jobs and economic security, which are taking on far more concern.
© 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.